TikTok teens are roleplaying as victims of the Holocaust, 9/11, and domestic abuse. We spoke to an expert to find out why

Laveta Brigham

Teens on TikTok roleplaying a domestic abuse victim (L), and a 9/11 victim (R). 

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Teens on TikTok roleplaying a domestic abuse victim (L), and a 9/11 victim (R).

  • People on TikTok are pretending to be victims of historical events such as the Holocaust and 9/11 and even domestic abuse. 

  • One creator of these videos told Insider they wanted to “educate people” with their depiction of the Auschwitz concentration camps. 

  • Karen Kovacs North, a Clinical Professor of Communication at USC Annenberg, told Insider that teenagers are most likely doing making these videos out of a desire to bring awareness to a social issue while also participating in the TikTok culture.  

  • “They’re insensitive and hurtful out of complete lack of understanding,” she said. 

  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

When Avery* made a TikTok video in where she roleplayed a Holocaust victim in heaven, she did not expect the backlash. 

The 17-year-old was in her house in New Jersey earlier this year when she used dark make-up and wore tattered clothes to portray a character who was being deported to Auschwitz. 

With Bruno Mars’ song “Locked out of Heaven” playing in the background, the teen uses captions and facial expressions to pretend that she’s been murdered in the gas chambers alongside her family.  

“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,” Avery told Insider.

“I wanted to educate people because I felt like it was important to share these stories. It was never intended to be offensive,” she added.

Avery’s video is part of a widespread TikTok trend, which involves teenagers using hashtags like #Holocaust or #heaven to make videos in which they pretend to be victims of the Nazi genocide.

The videos have caused controversy online, with some people dubbing them “trauma porn.” 

But teens on TikTok are not just recreating the Holocaust. A Twitter thread recently revealed another historical event that people are acting out on the platform: 9/11. 

In the TikTok videos, teens use the backdrop of the twin towers, wear makeup simulating burns, and in some instances, include the real phone calls of those who were involved in the attack in September 2001.


Another TikTok trend that went viral in January shows people pretending to be domestic violence victims.

One video viewed more than 1.7 million times showed a 16-year-old girl using make-up to gradually cover her face to resemble bruises as she lip syncs to Lily Allen’s song “Not Fair.”

The student told the BBC that she filmed the clips because she felt “domestic abuse is something that should have more awareness.”

“The message of the video is don’t ignore the signs of domestic abuse. If you have the slightest concern, bring it up with the person,” she said, according to the BBC.

But why are TikTok creators doing this?

Karen Kovacs North, a Clinical Professor of Communication at USC Annenberg who is a recognized expert in social media and in psychology, told Insider that young people are most likely looking to be part of the “participatory culture.”

“We’re in an era of participation. People, especially younger people, don’t want to learn things passively, they want to participate in them,” she said. “TikTok is built for participation, so when you see someone doing something and they do it well, everyone else is encouraged to do their own unique version of it even if their version of it is completely lacking in talent and quality.”

The need to participate is paired with an ongoing desire to bring awareness to current social or political issues.

“We’re in a time right now, where there is unprecedented awareness for social justice and for social and political problems in the world. And while people come out on different sides of these issues, there’s a real hunger to make statements, protest, and build awareness,” said North.

“So when you add all of those things together, it’s still surprising that people do this, but it’s not surprising that people would act out something horrifying on TikTok because they’re drawn to it,” she added.

In response to some of the Holocaust videos, the Auschwitz Memorial Museum recently published a statement on Twitter in which it said that while the trend was “hurtful,” the teens in the videos should not be “vilified, shamed, and attacked.”

“The trend visible on TikTok can be indeed hurtful and even considered offensive. Some of the examples online are dangerously close or are already beyond the border of trivialization of history and being disrespectful to the victims,” the statement said.

“However, the motivation of some people posting the videos seems to come from the need to find some way of expressing personal memory.”


The museum also encouraged educators to “work with young people to present the facts and stories but also teach and discuss how to commemorate in a meaningful and respectful way.”

 “Social media is part of our everyday lives and communication. That is why we should continuously raise awareness that not every social media activity can commemorate the Holocaust,” it added.

North said that the museum’s statement was “spot on” and agreed that most people were making these videos “not out of a desire to be malicious.”

“I think that people make huge mistakes on social media where they are not only insensitive but they are flat-out hurtful to an individual or a group because they’re interested in a topic where they do not understand the gravity of the situation,” she said.

“They’re insensitive and hurtful out of complete lack of understanding.” 

*Name has been changed.

Read the original article on Insider

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