Auschwitz Memorial Blasts TikTok

TikTok is supposed to be funny. Of course, we all know humor is open to interpretation, and there’s an old saw in comedy that says you don’t know where the line is until you cross it. That’s not bad as a general rule in the funny business, but some fairly well-understood societal rules put some topics off-limits. At the top of the list? You probably already know. Unfortunately, and unbelievably, a lot of TikTok users never got the memo.

Recently, there’s been a trend on the TikTok app for users to “portray themselves as Holocaust victims” in various ways, including wearing uniforms like those worn by Auschwitz prisoners as well as Star of David armbands. While many users complained, others mimicked the idea, creating a trend of people making jokes about the Holocaust. This trend received a carefully-worded and gracious rebuke from representatives of The Auschwitz Memorial. Here is part of their comments:

“The ‘victim’ trend on TikTok can be hurtful and offensive. Some videos are dangerously close or already beyond the border of trivialization of history… But we should discuss this not to shame and attack young people whose motivation seems very diverse. It’s an educational challenge…”

In order to lead by example, the museum added a lengthy statement to its tweet, offering what has been described as a “nuanced critique” of the role social media has in remembering the Holocaust and the victims. In this longer statement, the museum added that some people used the trend as an opportunity to commemorate victims, expressing personal memories rather than trying to make a joke out of this horrific tragedy.

As a whole, the museum’s language was a good example of leaning in, rather than taking offense, of trying to be kind and gracious. The statement read: “We have to be very careful in this discussion because the language used, also very often in social media, seems to carry lots of emotions, sometimes very strong (emotions)…” adding that other users, especially critics who were offended by the “victim” posts, should be careful not to “vilify” users who may not have meant to cause offense or harm.

“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.”

Once the museum had an audience, they continued to broaden the discussion, inviting people to consider how social media propagates and, in some cases, promotes prejudice, including anti-Semitism.

As a whole, the museum took a difficult and divisive situation and effectively, graciously created a teachable moment that invited people in, rather than calling them out. That’s all-too-often rare on social media, where many conversations quickly devolve into shouting, arguing, and insults. This was a good example of how to do things not only differently, but better.

Ronn Torossian

Ronn Torossian is the founder and CEO of 5WPR and one of the most well-respected Public Relations professionals in the United States. Ronn is the author of "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations."

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