A bizarre conspiracy theory that disability rights and political activist, Helen Keller, did not accomplish any of her achievements as a deafblind historical figure is becoming popular among Generation Z students.
While its precise origin is unknown, the ableist claim denying Keller's existence infiltrated virtual classrooms as seen in this viral TikTok video of Gen Z students who confused Keller with a male Nazi terrorist.
So this is terrifying. History teacher discussing major events with Gen Z students. https://t.co/dsXkn3pkc2— Jamie (@Jamie)1613926126.0
Despite losing her sight and hearing due to illness at 19-months, Helen Keller grew up to be a lecturer and author of 14 books.
She is known for her legacy as a socialist who said her success was born of her privilege, an advocate for people with disabilities, a proponent of women's suffrage, a critic of racism and a supporter of labor rights. On the other hand, she drew criticism for her support of Eugenics. Keller—whose autobiography was the inspiration for the various versions of the award winning play and film The Miracle Worker—died in 1968 at the age of 87.
With many widespread conspiracy theories on the internet, the repudiation of Keller's existence and achievements is revealing unsettling consequences in the age of information where lies can gain as much if not more traction than the truth.
TikTok videos claiming the deaf and blind activist was a fraud presumably gained traction around January 6 when TikTok user @krunk19 posted a video calling Keller a "liar."
People missed his profile description note as "purely satirical."
If the claim started as a joke, the questioning of Keller's existence took on a life of its own as a conspiracy theory with hundreds of TikTok videos populating on social media.
The earliest known TikTok video about Keller was traced back to May 2020 with TikTok user @alleyesonharshita expressing doubts about the activist's achievements.
The video—which amassed 600,000 views and has since been removed after facing backlash—concluded with, "It's time for the lies to end."
According to Newsweek, "the hashtag #helenkeller has more than 70 million views, #helenkellerisfake has 3.7 million views and #helenkellerhateclub has 2 million views."
A search on Twitter yields examples of Helen Keller deniers perpetuating the widespread conspiracy theory although many appear to be satirical as well.
So is Helen Keller trending because someone thinks she isn't real, because they think she faked her disability, or… https://t.co/KB1A4cWvXV— Josh Jordan (@Josh Jordan)1614043241.0
Helen Keller went deaf and blind at the age of 19 months but became the only person with that diagnosis in human hi… https://t.co/8fO0BmrY3L— speckzo (@speckzo)1614083470.0
Scooby Doo is more realistic than Helen Keller.— Pinx (@Pinx)1614094827.0
Crazy how Helen Keller was able to accomplish so many things that no other deaf and blind person has ever been able… https://t.co/rADLd10Oa5— Ernst Stavro Blofeld (@Ernst Stavro Blofeld)1614085712.0
thinking about when I went into Waterstones and asked the staff for a specific book by helen keller and I was adama… https://t.co/BaijOVqrdN— ems🐝 (@ems🐝)1614099206.0
helen keller spent the whole war hiding in an attic like a b*tch and all of a sudden she’s a big hero. i refuse to see or hear of it— will (@will)1614047306.0
I have a very credible source who told me Helen Keller was not, in fact, a real person.— Jon Miller (@Jon Miller)1614056542.0
And while there are plenty of resources and photographs proving she was real, Keller's accomplishments may have been too good to be true for the Generation Z students featured earlier in the article.
History teacher and TikTok user @sameulsleeves shared his interaction with his students in the TikTok video in which he asked them about certain historical figures.
One student claimed Helen Keller was "that Nazi guy."
The visibly shocked teacher pressed the student for more information and was told Keller was "like a terrorist or something."
The teacher asked the student if she was confusing Keller for Adolf Hitler, and she replied, "Who's Hitler?"
Gen Z arguing that Helen Keller wasn’t real is actually really based. https://t.co/7icYEc012L— High Federalist (@High Federalist)1613966194.0
Many adults online were deeply concerned when another student was heard in the video making this false clarification:
"Helen Keller was the blind and deaf person who was faked. She didn't exist, but everyone believes she was deaf and blind."
Outraged Twitter users offended by the ableist claim sounded off in the comments.
@jamie2181 @Mashugana_Kat Very scary. And, since they are not educated in historical events, they are very suscepti… https://t.co/WJGmKFQ09q— rob berg (@rob berg)1614008605.0
@jamie2181 Sad part is the kids are laughing like this is funny and not tragic. Maybe if they saw it on Tik Tok they might have a clue.— MaskHysteria (@MaskHysteria)1613934882.0
@jamie2181 Bookmarking this for the next time someone says we need to “Listen to the children”— Wallace E. Rhymes, III (@Wallace E. Rhymes, III)1613941933.0
That moment when you’re disabled and you see that disabled icon Helen Keller is trending+get excited because lots o… https://t.co/kcYu6MswDT— Online 1 Room Schoolhouse (@Online 1 Room Schoolhouse)1614008774.0
I am beyond sickened by those who say, she was not real, a lie. Grow up.— ~𝓣𝓮𝓷𝓪𝓬𝓲𝓸𝓾𝓼 𝓣𝓮𝓪𝓱~ (@~𝓣𝓮𝓷𝓪𝓬𝓲𝓸𝓾𝓼 𝓣𝓮𝓪𝓱~)1613993625.0
I'm genuinely concerned that they think Helen Keller wasn't real and also confused her with Hitler https://t.co/gO3aF3DArW— Actually_its_now_sad_winter_time_Tina (@Actually_its_now_sad_winter_time_Tina)1613975840.0
@TMZ This is not funny. This is FRIGHTENING!— Chantal (@Chantal)1613861746.0
Sees Helen Keller trending: Oh! This is fresh lets see what- *reads in shock and horror as many ignorant and willfu… https://t.co/kD0y3UyW7F— Iboni Moon 🇯🇲(Selenia Moon Creations) (@Iboni Moon 🇯🇲(Selenia Moon Creations))1614019340.0
Helen Keller is an icon for disabled people so to belittle her accomplishments even in the context of a joke is ver… https://t.co/YR7LnSGEDG— Jordan ✨ (@Jordan ✨)1614038746.0
Newsflash: Helen Keller was real and so were her achievements.
She became the first deaf and blind graduate to ever earn a Bachelor of Arts degree from Radcliffe College of Harvard University.
In addition to campaigning for various causes and being a prolific author, she was also a known supporter of the NAACP and an original member of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Our (now weekly) reminder that Helen Keller was real and achieved so much. #HelenKeller https://t.co/XRDwiU60ry— Perkins School for the Blind (@Perkins School for the Blind)1614012469.0
if someone says helen keller isn't real again i'm going to scream. she is a real women with many accomplishments.— grayson | *check pinned* (@grayson | *check pinned*)1614000778.0
The teacher's TikTok video concluded with the students guessing Pearl Harbor was a "bridge" and with the teacher asking if the students knew what D-Day was.
Instead of answering it was in reference to the Allied invasion of Normandy during World War II, they claimed D-Day was a rapper.
Maybe it's time to stop forcing teachers to teach to the standardized tests and go back to teaching.