In February, Media Matters investigated a massive TikTok advertising campaign from medical startup Cerebral, in which the company was oversimplifying the complex diagnosis of ADHD to seemingly encourage self-diagnosis among users and overprescribe medication. Now, three months later, the company is under fire for allegedly overprescribing stimulants used to treat the attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Worse, TikTok is still allowing Cerebral to advertise on its platform.
Matthew Truebe, a former vice president at Cerebral, filed a lawsuit in late April against the medical startup alleging the company had fired him for complaining about its intentional overprescription of stimulants, like Adderall, in an effort to “increase customer retention.” Shortly after, it was reported that the Department of Justice is investigating Cerebral for “possible violations” of controlled substances law. There are also reports suggesting that the Drug Enforcement Administration is investigating Cerebral, as two employees claimed to be interviewed by DEA agents.
Despite the allegations from a former executive and federal investigations into the company, TikTok is still permitting Cerebral — and another predatory ADHD advertiser, Done — to continue advertising expedited diagnoses and treatment on its platform. TikTok also fed Media Matters' “For You Page” a Cerebral ad related to ADHD as recently as May 7.
By continuing to run ads for Cerebral, TikTok is enabling predatory medical startups to directly reach a young, vulnerable audience through its platform, thereby prioritizing profit over the safety of its own users. As one TikTok user pointed out: