Scrolling through TikTok a few days ago, I was alarmed to encounter several videos that truly disturbed me, to say the least.
The first one featured an influencer with dark makeup outlining her cheeks, eyes and nose, appearing bruised and malnourished.
“Oh, hi welcome to Heaven,” read the closed caption. “How do you do? And why do you look like that?”
“I died by gas chambers in Auschwitz.”
Taken aback by the blatant insensitivity of such a video, I continued scrolling with the assumption that this particular influencer had gotten it seriously wrong, and would receive her fair share of backlash.
And, while her video was heavily criticized and eventually taken down, I was horrified to find several more of its kind.
Among the innocence of viral dances and clever life hacks, a horrible new trend in which creators role-play as Holocaust victims has emerged, and many have blindly taken part. A few hashtags such as #holocaustchallenge have trended in tandem with the fad.
These videos range from a portrayal of someone who was murdered in a concentration camp entering the gates of heaven, to a reenactment of a Jewish woman’s death. Some of these TikToks even incorporate a green screen background of the infamous entrance to Auschwitz, as well as the infamous blue uniform portrayed in “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.” One creator even taped a Star of David onto her shirt in reference to the symbol used to mark Jewish people during the Holocaust.
And while many of these circulating videos have been removed from the app, the trend has still managed to capture the attention of many. The Auschwitz Memorial museum has dubbed this fad as “hurtful and offensive,” though not necessarily created with poor intentions.
“Some of the examples online are dangerously close or are already beyond the border of trivialization of history and being disrespectful to the victims,” tweeted the museum in light of the controversy surrounding the videos.
“Some were not created to commemorate anyone, but to become part of an online trend. This is very painful. However, the motivation of some people posting these videos seems to come from the need to find some way of expressing personal memory.”
In addition to the Auschwitz Memorial Museum, many other TikTok users have expressed disdain for the trend.
One person tweeted, “@tiktok_us did these girls really cosplay a Holocaust victim and narrative for a tik tok.. such a callous mockery of the genocide of millions of jews and other marginalized groups, i feel sick #Holocaust #tiktok #holocaustchallenge”
Although many of the teens made these videos with good intentions, they are essentially pretending they are Holocaust victims, and it certainly comes off as problematic and strange. Even the idea of applying makeup to resemble a victim of severe burning and abuse at the hands of Nazis is unsettling.
According to Insider, a 17-year-old New Jersey girl who created a video as someone who was killed in a gas chamber said that she aimed to educate rather than offend.
“I’ve always been interested in the history of the Holocaust and just wanted to make a creative video informing people about it on TikTok. It was never intended to be offensive,” she said, after promptly apologizing and removing the harmful content.
While creators with similar educational intentions have also removed their contributions to the trend, TikTok has taken measures to remove the #holocaustchallenge from the platform, as it is in violation of the app’s community guidelines.
But what else, other than the obvious reasons, makes these videos so problematic, even though their creators likely did not intend any harm?
Many who have criticized this trend have been quick to describe it as “trauma porn,” a term that references “any type of media – be it written, photographed or filmed – which exploits traumatic moments of adversity to generate buzz, notoriety or social media attention.”
Similar to the way the phrases “food porn” and “word porn” are used, trauma porn glamorizes the suffering of others and mass produces it for the public to circulate throughout social media.
Another example of trauma porn includes videos that feature the brutalization of people of color at the hands of law enforcement. Just like the creators of the distressing Holocaust TikToks, those who share such videos likely have no ill intent.
But, according to an article by Ashlee Marie Preston titled “Sorry, Consuming Trauma Porn Is Not Allyship,” sharing such content is extremely counterproductive to what those who produce it likely aim to accomplish.
“By re-sharing, liking, or posting videos of Black people being murdered, you’re inadvertently helping to spread that message,” she said. She also explains how, as someone who was a victim of brutality, seeing videos of fellow Black people in similar situations is extremely distressing.
The bottom line is that it is ever-so-important to remain critical of the content you are sharing on social media. Consuming and producing trauma for entertainment should not be a TikTok trend — it’s exploitative and disrespectful to the victim. And while the teens who created the videos intended to commemorate, their tone-deaf approach certainly missed the mark.
As tweeted by the Auschwitz Memorial, “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.”
Some on the app are roleplaying as Holocaust victims. Regardless of intent, the fad is incredibly disrespectful, to say the least.