As schools reopened recently, across the globe, a new challenge went viral on the video-sharing app TikTok, called the #NewTeacherPrank challenge.
It involved parents tricking their children into believing that they were talking to the children’s new teachers, on a video call. The parent then films the child’s reaction as they look at an image of the “new teacher”.
Over the last two weeks, the hashtag, and it’s variations went viral with more than 16 million posts.
While some parents used morphed pictures of people making silly faces, sadly, there were many others who decided to feature people with physical deformities, or disabilities.
As children look shocked, some cry and others hide their faces, while their parents laugh.
The trend sparked a huge backlash on Twitter, as people started pointing out that the challenge was “awful”. Many said the parents were promoting bullying, while suggesting that it was okay to judge other people based on their physical appearance. Soon, the issue was highlighted across social media channels. Twitter users labelled the trend “dangerous”.
In August, author and disability advocate, Lisa Velasquez, took to social media, to address the prank videos and advocate against such damaging content on the social media platform. She called for an end to the ‘FaceTime prank’ trend.
Born with a rare genetic disorder called marfanoid-progeroid-lipodystrophy syndrome (MFLS), Velasquez became one of the targets of this prank, with parents using her photograph.
Due to MFLS, she doesn’t gain weight at a proportionate rate to her growth in height. The disorder also affects her eyes, bones, brain and heart.
In an Instagram post that went viral, Velasquez posted: "I will say this over and over and over. The people you put in photos or videos are human beings! We have feelings, and we have something we work on everyday called self confidence. Please, PLEASE don’t teach your children that it’s funny to be afraid of someone who doesn’t look like them. When adults are upset their kids are being bullied, this is the perfect example that teaching kindness and acceptance starts AT HOME. Just be kind to one another. We need it now more than ever!"
Melissa Blake another disability activist and writer who has been the subject of countless jokes, memes, and pranks on social media, also found her picture being used in a similar manner.
In an article on a news website, Blake wrote: "I want to be clear: I am violated. Every single time. Each photo, taunt, and cruel word is a clear violation of my dignity, and my worth as a human being. And every time these platforms fail to take action, they're sending the message that this bullying is okay. So many disabled people have become inured to our appearance being mocked. That's not something we should ever have to get used to."
Blake also pointed out that the parents making these videos aren't just being cruel to her and others with disabilities, but also to their own children, by filming a vulnerable moment, and posting it on the internet. She asked: “How is humiliating your child, or watching other children go through that, a source of amusement?"
As this issue went viral, many parents finally apologised, and said that they had deleted the prank videos. Others social media users also requested parents on TikTok to refrain from participating in the trend any further.
Other social media users also requested parents on TikTok to refrain from participating in the trend any further.