TikTok Awash With Bizarre Videos Questioning Whether Helen Keller Existed

Videos claiming Helen Keller did not exist or that she was a fraud have gone viral as TikTok users share conspiracy theories around the deaf-blind activist. The false claims have begun circulating again this week, but the theories surrounding Keller's existence have been prevalent on the app for months.

In May 2020, TikTok user @alleyesonharshita posted a video questioning Keller's achievements, which ends by saying: "It's time for the lies to end."

The video originally amassed more than 600,000 views, but it appears that Harshita has deleted it after facing a backlash as it went viral this week.

Another TikTok video by user @curtiswais that mocked Keller using the "how bizarre" trend also gained thousands of views, but was also deleted or removed on January 6.

Although it is unclear whether the videos were deleted by the users or the social media platform, TikTok told Newsweek: "TikTok is an inclusive community, and we do not tolerate hateful behaviour. Content that dehumanises others on the basis of a disability is a violation of our Community Guidelines, and we remove such content from our platform."

A video (which remains live as of January 7) by @krunk19 may have helped perpetuate the conspiracy theory.

Although the user's profile is described as "purely satirical," the video posted last month claims Keller was a "liar" and that her having written books and flying a plane was all to deceive the public.

Hundreds of comments under the video by @krunk19 cast doubt on Keller's existence.

There are dozens, if not hundreds, of videos questioning Keller's existence or mocking her deafness and blindness on TikTok. The hashtag #helenkeller has more than 70 million views, #helenkellerisfake has 3.7 million views and #helenkellerhateclub has 2 million views.

The TikTok conspiracy theory has caused outrage, as Twitter users discuss the impact of disinformation circulated on social media.

Daniel Kunka took to Twitter to tell how his teenage nieces and nephews believe Keller was a fraud who did not exist. Kunka said: "At first I thought they were trolling grandma, which is admittedly fun. But after a while it was clear they weren't joking.

"'How could someone be deaf and blind and learn how to write books?' My nephew admits she probably existed but was probably only one or the other."

Kunka then went on to say: "And we wonder what the cost of four years of 'fake news' and 'conspiracy theories' is... We're all just one TikTok away from being erased from an entire generation."

Guys, something insane happened to me today.

I am on a text chain with my teenage nieces and nephews along with my mom (their grandma) and today my mom asked them if they knew who Helen Keller was...

And their response was that Helen Keller was a fraud who didn't exist.

— Daniel Kunka (@unikunka) January 5, 2021

Marlee Matlin, an actress who is deaf, said on Twitter: "The trending topic that Helen Keller never existed is shocking, inexcusable and a sad example of how deaf, deaf-blind and people with disabilities can literally be tweeted out of existence. I will NEVER give up fighting against ableist nonsense like this!"

Writer Andi Zeisler said: "Helen Keller is not Santa Claus. You do not get to decide whether to 'believe in' a person who existed in the world. What is happening."

Among the theories circulating on TikTok is that Keller was neither deaf nor blind, that she was either deaf or blind but not both, or that her disabilities were exaggerated in some way.

Others doubt her achievements, such as writing books or flying a plane, which she did with the assistance of an aircrew. There are also other false claims of Keller being racist, and doubts about her having lived to the age of 87.

It shouldn't have to be said, but Helen Keller was a real person who was both deaf and blind.

Keller, born in 1880, lost her sight and hearing at the age of 19 months after falling ill with what is thought to be scarlet fever or meningitis. As a child, Keller invented a kind of sign language and was able to communicate with the young daughter of her family's cook.

Keller later worked with Anne Sullivan, who began teaching her to communicate by fingerspelling, which involved spelling words out on her hands. A breakthrough in Sullivan's teaching came when Sullivan held Keller's hand under running water and spelled the word "water" out on her hand.

Later, Keller would learn to speak using a method called Tadoma, which involved placing her hand on the speaker's face, with her thumb on their larynx and a couple of fingers on the speaker's lips and nose.

Not being able to speak clearly disappointed Keller, as she said that it was "not blindness or deafness that bring me my darkest hours. It is the acute disappointment in not being able to speak normally. Longingly I feel how much more good I could have done if I had acquired natural speech.

However, Keller also said: "But out of this sorrowful experience, I understand more clearly all human striving, wanted ambitions, and the infinite capacity of hope."

Keller went on to become an educator and activist, attended Radcliffe College of Harvard University, became the first deaf-blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree, and worked for the American Foundation for the Blind as an adviser and fundraiser.

Helen Keller
Portrait of American writer, educator and activist Helen Keller (1880-1968) holding a Braille volume and surrounded by shelves containing books and decorative figurines. TikTok users are spreading conspiracy theories that falsely claim she did not exist or was a fraud. Hulton Archive/Stringer/Getty