- In the viral #facetimeprank TikTok trend, parents are filming their children’s reactions to “scary” photos of adults who may look different or unfamiliar.
- Motivational speaker and influencer Lizzie Velasquez, who was mocked by one TikTok user taking part in the trend, says these kinds of videos are harmful and may shape how children respond to the unfamiliar.
- Velasquez made a TikTok video of her own in which she urged parents to avoid stoking children’s fear by baiting them into being alarmed by photos of people who look “different.”
- Ultimately, she hopes people will reconsider taking part in the trend and have productive conversations with children about difference and tolerance.
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When Lizzie Velasquez discovered the #facetimeprank trend on TikTok, she knew it was only a matter of time before her photo surfaced on the app.
The 31-year-old motivational speaker, who has a rare genetic condition called neonatal progeroid syndrome, is unable to gain weight — and she frequently faces the vitriol of internet trolls mocking her appearance.
“Given my past, dealing with hurtful memes and bad videos, I knew what was coming,” she told Insider.
In one version of the trending TikTok prank, parents instruct their children to participate in a FaceTime call with a new teacher for the upcoming (remote) school year — before turning the screen around to reveal a photo (oftentimes, a mugshot) of an adult who looks “different.” Then, they share their children’s terrified reactions with viewers, hoping for a laugh.
As she anticipated, Velasquez was tagged in one of the prank videos. In the clip, a mother films herself telling her son to meet his new teacher before revealing a photo taken from Velasquez’s social media. The video appears to have since been removed, and Insider was not able to reach the uploader.
In response, Velasquez made a TikTok video of her own addressing the harmful impact of the trend.
“TikTok, I need your help,” she said in the clip. “If you are an adult who has a young human in your life, please do not teach them that being scared of someone who doesn’t look like them is okay. Please. Everything that these kids need to know about empathy and being kind to one another starts at home.”
The video has been viewed over 485,000 times in 24 hours, and commenters are voicing their support for Velasquez’s message.
“Yes! This trend never felt right to me,” one commenter wrote.
“I’m so sorry I did this with my daughter too. I deleted it right away,” another said. “I feel bad and will spread the word.”
Lizzie Velasquez frequently speaks about cyberbullying prevention, and hopes her video can be a teaching moment for parents
The trend never sat right with her, she told Insider, and she knew she had to come to the defense of other people featured in the prank videos, many of whom have disabilities or addiction issues.
“When I see these kinds of videos, I know exactly that feeling of being made fun of — and I sort of go into, like, protection mode, and I want to stand up for people,” she said.
While Velasquez believes that parents are simply “trying to be funny,” their videos have serious implications.
“Kids remember their parents’ actions,” she said. “I think we underestimate the number of small things that kids really absorb. It’s harmful for them to see their parents baiting them into laughing or being scared by someone who doesn’t look like them.”
Children, she believes, will take the lessons they learn at home and apply them to the wider world.
“If they go out into the world and see another child — or even an adult — who is in a wheelchair or missing a limb, are they going to take the same reaction of being afraid or laughing?” she wondered.
But parents, Velasquez says, can use this as an opportunity to address how children respond to the unfamiliar.
“This is really a chance for parents to teach their kids that when you see someone who is different, it’s not okay to laugh at them and it’s not okay to be scared of them — but it is okay to be curious about them,” she explained. “It’s okay to recognize difference and to ask questions. I would much rather that someone look me in the eye and acknowledge me as a person.”
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