Posting this here because this phenomenon of something which has mainly been something which affects boys and men, is not only becoming more common but looks very like social contagion - like TikTokers claiming DID, neurodivergence and, of course, gender dysphoria. Something is going on and social media is at the heart of it. Big Tech can no longer make billions while spreading harm and remaining unaccountable for the content they make available.
Whether speaking truth from her couch on Gogglebox or maintaining her dignity amid a blitzkrieg of bugs on I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here!, Scarlett Moffatt has long displayed superhuman levels of chatty charm.
But she faced perhaps the toughest challenge of her presenting career to date in Britain’s Tourette’s Mystery: Scarlett Moffatt Investigates. This inquiry into the worrying jump in the number of young women reporting tics and Tourette’s-like behaviour during lockdown tackled a serious topic. It required Moffatt to reinforce her trademark amiability with journalistic rigour.
As we discovered across the course of a humane and gripping film, Moffatt is more than up to the task. Just like Stacey Dooley and Louis Theroux, Moffatt has a gift for inserting herself into potentially challenging scenarios without coming across as prying or prurient. And she brought huge reservoirs of empathy, as we saw when one of her interviewees had a violent attack of ticking and started banging his head off the floor.
Britain’s Tourette’s Mystery had to thread a particularly tricky needle. Moffatt revealed that not only has the number of young women reporting tics – which involve physical spasms and involuntary and often obscene verbal outbursts – increased dramatically over the course of the pandemic, but there has also been an explosion in the number of Tourette’s “influencers”: people sharing their experiences of the condition on social media. The question Moffatt set out to answer was whether one was connected to the other.
Moffatt has a personal stake in the story. At school, she temporarily developed tics (around the time her father was diagnosed with cancer). “Doing this documentary, I am a bit nervous about catching it again,” she confessed. “I am worried.”
Her quest for answers saw her hitting the road. On the Isle of Wight, she met Betsy, whose tics had manifested out of the blue during a maths lesson. “Why can’t I be normal?” she wondered.
Another teenager, Nicole, had a more complicated relationship with her condition. She watched Tourette’s influencers on TikTok and had in turn gone on social media to chronicle her journey. Her reward was a predictable onslaught of vitriol, and accusations she was playing up her condition for the camera. “The Tourette’s is part of me – it’s who I am,” she said.
Moffatt sought out some of the influencers on “Tourette’s TikTok”. Holly Ann Rutherford had 800,000 followers and said that she occasionally participated in paid promotions on her feed. But that wasn’t her motivation. “I don’t want other people feeling like me at the beginning – I was terrified.”
Holly and a group of influencers met Moffatt to reflect on whether they were helping Tourette’s suffers or contributing to the epidemic of tics. This was where Ryan had his violent attack. “People will watch TikTok and just see the fun side,” said Moffatt. “You don’t think about the physical pain people are in.”
The influencers were undoubtedly motivated by a desire to help. Yet experts cast doubt on the effectiveness of their methods. “We always say to children and families – if you’re experiencing tics, try to take attention away from them. Don’t talk about them – don’t think about them,” said acute paediatric neurologist Dr Tammy Hedderly. “Here we have the complete opposite scenario.”
These were arguably contradictory messages and the film could easily have become bogged down in that clash of views. Instead, Moffatt served as an audience stand-in. She didn’t have all the answers and left it to the viewer to draw their own conclusion. Her only take away was that teenagers should not seek solutions exclusively from YouTube or social media. “I don’t know what kids do nowadays, but do it with your friends in actual real life,” she said.
This was Moffatt in wise big sister mode. It was a role she carried off perfectly. If she’s interested, a career as a documentarian with that elusive common touch surely beckons.