Ruling

Resolution Statement – 08591-21 Fessler v Wired

    • Date complaint received

      13th January 2022

    • Outcome

      Resolved - IPSO mediation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Resolution Statement – 08591-21 Fessler v Wired

Summary of Complaint

1. Eli Fessler complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Wired breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “The complicated truth about TikTok and Tourette’s syndrome”, published on 27th March 2021.

2. The online article reported on the relationship between TikTok and Tourette’s syndrome, and reported that “[a] letter in the British Medical Journal suggests that TikTok may be to blame for a spike in Tourette's diagnoses in teenage girls”. The article said that “[t]his is still just a theory – and it’s unclear what the mechanism for such a phenomenon might be, or how it would fit into our limited understanding of the causes of Tourette’s syndrome”. It went on to claim that “[o]ne of the main causes for Tourette’s is believed to be anxiety”, stating that “Tourette’s is a ‘functional illness,’ says Chowdhury – it has a purpose, which might be to release anxiety or let off steam.”

3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 as anxiety is not believed to be one of the main causes of Tourette’s; he said that while anxiety disorders can be related, they are not the “cause” of Tourette’s. The complainant further said that it was inaccurate to state that Tourette’s purpose is “to release anxiety or let off steam” as motor tics are associated with dysfunction in the basal ganglia, and involve complex interactions with other brain areas.

4. The publication did not accept that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. It said that it had interviewed two experts on Tourette’s syndrome, who had both drawn a link between anxiety and the occurrence of Tourette’s-related tics. It highlighted that the quote “[o]ne of the main causes for Tourette’s is believed to be anxiety” made clear that anxiety was “believed” to be one of the main causes of Tourette’s, but not that it was the sole cause. The publication went on to state that the BMJ article had also suggested a link between anxiety and Tourette’s-related tics. It also said that the quote that Tourette’s “has a purpose, which might be to release anxiety or let off steam” was provided by one of the experts that had been interviewed, and was not a statement of fact by the publication.

Relevant Code Provisions

Clause 1 (Accuracy)

i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.

ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and — where appropriate — an apology published. In cases involving IPSO, due prominence should be as required by the regulator.

iii) A fair opportunity to reply to significant inaccuracies should be given, when reasonably called for.

iv) The Press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.

Mediated Outcome

5. The complaint was not resolved through direct correspondence between the parties. IPSO therefore began an investigation into the matter.

6. During IPSO’s investigation the publication offered to make a number of amendments to the article, including adding “and tics” to the following quote: “[a] letter in the British Medical Journal suggests that TikTok may be to blame for a spike in Tourette's and tics diagnoses in teenage girls”; replacing the sentence: “[o]ne of the main causes for Tourette’s is believed to be anxiety” with: “Chowdhury and Dobson believe that one potential cause for the increase in younger girls presenting with tics may be anxiety”; and amending the start of the sentence: “Tourette’s is a ‘functional illness,’ says Chowdhury – it has a purpose, which might be to release anxiety or let off steam” to say: “The presentation of tics appears to be a ‘functional illness,’ says Chowdhury”. It also offered to publish a clarification at the top of the article.

7. The complainant welcomed the offer made by the publication, and suggested that in addition to the amendments and clarification, it should also amend the sentence “[t]his is still just a theory – and it’s unclear what the mechanism for such a phenomenon might be, or how it would fit into our limited understanding of the causes of Tourette’s syndrome” to state that “[t]his is still just a theory – it's unclear what the mechanism for such a phenomenon might be, what role social media plays, and why tics are the focus." The complainant also suggested that the publication revisit the end of the article and remove a quoted sentence about Tourette’s.

8. The publication agreed to amend the above sentence and the end of the article, in addition to the previous amendments, and published the following clarification:

“This article has been updated to make clear the distinction between Tourette’s syndrome and tics. A quote from Uttom Chowdhury has also been amended to make clear this distinction.”.

9. The complainant said that this would resolve the matter to his satisfaction.

10. As the complaint was successfully mediated, the Complaints Committee did not make a determination as to whether there had been any breach of the Code.


Date complaint received: 28/07/2021

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 30/11/2021