Some TikTok trends are entertaining, if repetitive. Others edge towards the slightly dangerous dangerous.
But a new one, the so-called “FaceTime Prank,” is just cruel — and it’s damaging for a number of different reasons.
Author and disability advocate Lizzie Velasquez called out the prank on her own TikTok account on Sunday. It involves telling someone they’re going to FaceTime with somebody they know, and then instead showing them a photo or video of someone intended to shock or scare them — like a mug shot, or a video of a disabled person.
Velasquez came across someone using her own image, as a way to scare a child.
“If you are an adult who has a young human in your life, please do not teach them that being scared of someone who doesn’t look like them is okay. Please,” Velasquez urges in her video.
“Everything that these kids need to know about having empathy and being kind to one another starts at home. Please, this is not okay.”
Velasquez’s TikTok plea has gotten a lot of attention, with a lot of her supporters lamenting the fact that basic decency is something she had to ask for, not something that was automatically granted to her.
Velasquez was born with a rare genetic disorder called marfanoid-progeroid-lipodystrophy syndrome, or MFLS. It means she doesn’t gain weight at a proportionate rate to her growth in height, and it also affects her eyes, bones, brain and heart, and gives her prominent and distinctive features.
She’s faced a lot of abuse from people who think her facial difference means she has less worth as a person. In speeches she has given, and on her social media platforms, she’s explained how hurtful it has been to be subject to such relentless bullying.
“For so long I thought that what defined me was my outer appearance,” she said in a 2013 TED Talk. She used to fantasize about “scrubbing the syndrome” off her face, she said.
She also talked about how when she was in high school, she came across a video where someone called her the world’s ugliest woman. The comments were full of people telling her to kill herself.
The discovery was deeply upsetting, but it also allowed her to adjust her perspective, she said.
“Something kind of clicked in my head,” she explained. “Am I going to let the people who called me a monster define me?... No, I’m going to let my goals and my success and my accomplishments be the things that define me.”
The point she made in her TikTok, about attitudes towards differences and disabilities coming from parents, is a significant one. There are a ton of resources available about how to talk to kids about people with disabilities, with special needs or with deformities, which emphasize that parents should talk to kids openly, answer their questions, and be clear about the fact that there’s nothing “wrong” with someone with a disability.
Talking about the challenges disabled people face can help kids gain empathy, as can reading books about kids with disabilities can be a big help, too. And as Velasquez points out, one of the most important ways kids learn empathy is by seeing it in action at home.