Disability activist Lizzie Velasquez condemns TikTok trend of parents pranking their kids with fake photos of their new teacher

Kerry Justich
·4 min read
Anti-bullying and disability activist speaks out against hurtful TikTok trend. (Photo: Twitter)
Anti-bullying and disability activist Lizzie Velasquez, left, is speaking out against hurtful TikTok trend. (Photo: Twitter)

Disability activist and motivational speaker Lizzie Velasquez is speaking out about a recent TikTok FaceTime trend that she says is encouraging children to react in an unfavorable way toward the way that people look — and she’s pleading for the trend to be stopped.

“TikTok I need your help,” Velasquez said in a video shared on her social media accounts. “This trend where you are pretending to FaceTime someone who is either disabled or is a baby or just some crazy mugshot and you’re showing it to someone to get their reaction to saying, ‘Oh hey, talk to this person’ just to get a quick laugh, this is not funny. This is not a joke.”

She went on to explain that a mother had used her photo to prank a child into thinking that Velasquez would be his teacher for the upcoming school year. “He had a scared reaction on his face,” Velasquez said. “If you are an adult who has a young human in your life, please do not teach them that being scared of someone who does not look like them is okay. Please, everything that these kids need to know about having empathy and being kind to one another starts at home.”

The trend that became popular in late July shows parents recording a fake FaceTime with someone who they claim to be their child’s new teacher in an effort to capture the kid’s response. Velasquez tells Yahoo Life that since seeing it for the first time, she had a feeling she would become involved.

“I knew in my gut my photo was going to be used,” she says. “After dealing with things like this for a while now, I can sense when this might happen.”

Related video: What makes Lizzie Velasquez feel beautiful

The 31-year-old Texas native was born with neonatal progeroid syndrome, a rare genetic disease that has left her victim to attacks on her looks since a photo of her — at 13 — was used in a video calling her the “the world’s ugliest woman.”

When she eventually came across a video where a mother used her photo as part of this recent trend, Velasquez says she was swept into a “whirlwind” and ended up making her response video in the middle of the night. “I couldn’t sleep. All that kept running through my mind was the innocent people used in these videos. Whether their photo is photoshopped to look exaggerated or whether they are babies who were born uniquely different, nobody has the right to use that in the form of humor,” she explains. “When things like this are brought to my attention my number one concern is how can I make this a teaching moment. How can I best use my platform for good.”

Velasquez’s video received 8.8 million views on Twitter alone as of Monday afternoon and lots of support.

TikTok did not immediately respond to Yahoo Life’s request for comment, nor has it responded to Velasquez’s video. Still, she hopes that her message gets to the right people.

“When kids are in school or whether they are out in public, it's crucial to teach them the importance of respecting someone who doesn’t look like them. Showing them a video might be a joke, but it can be something that shows a child if my mom or dad thinks it's funny then it must be okay for me to laugh at as well,” she says. “I take great responsibility in the fact that now is the time time to do all I can to speak up for those who might not have a voice or for those who don’t know how to use theirs.”

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