Pretending to be a victim of the Holocaust as part of a TikTok challenge isn’t the proper way to commemorate a person’s life. But shaming the people involved isn’t the best way forward, according to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum.
TikTok users participating in the challenge would impersonate a Holocaust victim as if they were in heaven and explain how they died. While “crucial” to share victims’ stories as a means of commemoration and education, role playing as a victim isn’t the way to do it, the museum said in a statement, calling it “indeed hurtful and even considered offensive.”
Some of the videos in the TikTok challenge are “dangerously close” or “beyond the border of trivialization of history and being disrespectful to the victims.” But the museum noted that some people seemed to be posting the video out of a need to “find some way of expressing personal memory.”
A 15-year-old TikTok user named McKayla told Wired UK she made her video to “spread awareness” about the Holocaust and share the “reality behind the camps by sharing my Jewish grandmother’s story.” Taylor Hillman, 21, told the outlet she had a similar motivation and tried to make her video in a way that it wouldn’t romanticize the experience of her family members.
Other videos, taken by people just wanted to become part of an online trend and weren’t intended as a commemoration, are “very painful,” according to the museum. The spectrum of motivations behind filming the videos shows there’s a need to raise awareness that not every activity can commemorate the Holocaust, the museum said.
“It always demands respect towards the victims, proper language and context as well as factual accuracy,” the statement said. “Educators should work with young people to present the facts and stories but also teach and discuss how to commemorate in a meaningful and respectful way.”
An “educational challenge,” the museum said the discussion shouldn’t be about shaming and attacking young people with seemingly “very diverse” motivations.
A Tiktok spokesperson told Newsweek the company blocked the “#holocaustchallenge” earlier in the week to discourage people from participating.
“We do not condone content like this and are redirecting searches for it to our Community Guidelines to further educate users about our policies and the supportive, inclusive community we are working to foster on TikTok,” the spokesperson said.
When considering the magnitude of the Holocaust or the global impact it had, it’s seemingly difficult to imagine people are uninformed about basic facts. However, a Pew Research poll in February 2019 found only 45 percent of American adults knew 6 million Jewish people were killed. “Approximately 3 million” and “more than 12 million” each garnered 12 percent of the response, and 29 percent of participants chose “not sure/no answer.”
Education increased the likelihood a person knew the number of Jews who were murdered, as those who were college graduates or visited a Holocaust memorial or museum were about 20 percentage points more likely to answer correctly.
This isn’t the first time the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum has spoken out about how people approach the tragedy on social media. In March 2019, it posted on Twitter a few photos visitors took of them walking on the tracks that carried trains filled with prisoners to the camp, many of whom would be killed shortly after arriving.
The museum wrote that visitors should remember they’re at the site where more than 1 million people were killed and there are “better places to learn how to walk on a balance beam than the site which symbolizes deportation of hundreds of thousands to their deaths.”
While the TikTok challenge isn’t acceptable, the museum said there are “far more dangerous issues” regarding the use of social media to spread information. Some of the problems that continue to persist on the internet are algorithms that promote antisemitism and the allowance of Holocaust denial on social media platforms.
This article has been updated to include comment from Tiktok.
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