Like any tool, social media can be used for good or bad purposes, and can sometimes result in unintended consequences. There are some examples of people who use social media in extremely positive ways, including Jimmy Choi. Jimmy uses TikTok to educate future generations about Parkinson’s, raise money, inspire hundreds of thousands of people, and even redesign a common healthcare tool.
The Downsides to Social Media
In the last couple of years I’ve often felt down on social media. That’s in part because so much of the recent content has been negative. The term "doomscrolling," seeking negative news or content online (often on social media), has only become popular since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Doomscrolling has been fueled by anxiety about the pandemic itself, plus heated and venomous arguments over politics and social justice issues.
Social media platforms have also played a significant role in amplifying misinformation (about both politics and public health) and contributing to anxiety and stress, especially among teens.
According to The Social Dilemma by Netflix and Inside TikTok’s Highly Secretive Algorithm by the Wall Street Journal, the way social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok make money biases them toward sharing negative and/or extremist content. That's because they are trying to get and keep users' attention as long as possible.
Upsetting, frightening or otherwise negative content is “sticky” given that our brains are wired to respond to (and thus avoid) negatives as opposed to focusing on more positive, upbeat content.
Who is Jimmy Choi?
Although there can be negatives to social media, there are some powerful illustrations of using social media for good. One of my favorite examples is Jimmy Choi, a World Record holding athlete, Parkinson’s patient, American Ninja Warrior, and TikToker.
Jimmy was diagnosed with Young Onset Parkinson’s nearly 20 years ago at the age of 27. He went through a period of about eight years in which he was in denial. He was overweight and overwhelmed. Then he fell down the stairs holding his infant son, and made a commitment to do whatever he could to improve his life.
Parkinson’s is a progressive disease primarily diagnosed in people over 60 or 70. It creates tremors and impairs the body’s ability to function in both large and small ways, impacting motor skills and even diminishing cognitive ability.
Jimmy found role models including actor Michael J. Fox. They demonstrated that it was possible to slow or even stop the progression of Parkinson’s and live a rewarding life even with the disease. One of the best ways to do that was by increasing physical exercise.
Jimmy had been athletic in high school, but had largely stopped exercising after his diagnosis. He picked up exercise again, training himself deliberately to run, and eventually competing in ultra-endurance races and triathlons.
Meanwhile, Jimmy’s daughter, as a fan of American Ninja Warrior, the nationally watched extreme obstacle course competition, encouraged Jimmy to try out for the show. Eventually, he agreed, becoming a five-time contestant.
Even as an elite athlete, Jimmy realized he was still at risk of falling often due to Parkinson’s. He decided to strengthen his upper body so he could get up more easily. With prolonged practice, effort, and discipline, Jimmy reached a point at which he was able to achieve two Guinness World Records—one for burpees, one for push ups. Check out my interview with him to hear the full story:
How Jimmy is Using Social Media for Good with TikTok
Like his decision to try out for American Ninja Warrior, Jimmy’s decision to get on TikTok was inspired by his kids. As a parent, he was curious to see what they were doing on the platform.
Jimmy observed that there were many fitness challenges on TikTok and the opportunity, through “duets” to record a video next to someone else’s in response to a challenge. He started one-upping people half his age, showing that despite his age and living with Parkinson’s, he could still beat them with his athleticism. His posts were (and continue to be) funny, engaging, and playful, with just the right amount of attitude.
Within about a year, Jimmy had nearly 200K TikTok followers. In addition to duets, he began making short educational videos about life with Parkinson’s. Some (like how Parkinson’s can impact your ability to go to the bathroom) were quite irreverent: engaging, yet informative.
Jimmy's goal was to help young people understand Parkinson's, accept it, and perhaps contribute to its cure. Jimmy and his wife Cherryl have raised more than $500K dollars for the Michael J. Fox Foundation. In addition, Jimmy used TikTok to find and inspire collaborators to redesign the traditional pill bottle.
The Story of the 3D Printed Pill Box Solution
Image credit: TikTok @Brianaldridge
One of Jimmy’s TikTok posts shared how hard it is for him to retrieve one tiny pill without spilling the others—a nearly impossible task for a person whose hands shake.
A music video director named Brian Aldridge saw the post. He imagined a solution and drew it using a 3-D modeling and design tool. Brian didn’t have a 3-D printer himself, so he posted his idea on TikTok, and offered the detailed plans to anyone who could print it.
Brian’s post was in turn picked up by the engineering and 3-D printing communities, including David Exler, known as Hungry Engineer on TikTok. Within just a couple of days, David printed a working prototype of the bottle and sent it to Jimmy so he could help to iterate it. The new human centered design isolates one pill at a time, making it easier for Jimmy and countless other people to use.
Even better, Alldridge has been working with a patent attorney to ensure that the pill bottle design remains open source so that anyone can access and improve on it. He has offered to make copies of the bottle available to people who need them in exchange for donations to the Michael J. Fox Foundation.
Sign up for updates on the latest version of the pill bottle here: TremorSafe.com
You Can Use Social Media for Good
Everyone has a story to tell or something to share. Jimmy uses social media to raise awareness, inspire, entertain, and solve real world problems. Many other patients and caregivers also leverage social media channels in their own unique ways to help others and spread the word, and in doing so give their lives a greater sense of purpose.
For resources to help you use social media to improve your health, download AdaRose’s free guide on the Top 10 Ways to Use Digital Health to Make Your Life Easier. See especially points 2 and 10, which include links to multiple active and specialized patient and caregiver groups. You can also learn about products and services that may simplify your life.
When we care for ourselves and others, the greater world around us benefits.