Fantasies of TikTok: The Limits of Social Media and Holocaust Advocacy


Fantasies of TikTok: The Limits of Social Media and Holocaust Advocacy



Katharine Louise Schreyer



Over the past decade, Holocaust scholars and museum professionals have debated the value of social media for teaching and commemorating the Shoah. Whether user-generated or created by institutions, native social media content is marginal in at least two senses. First, such content circulates outside the academic and professional venues in which Holocaust history and pedagogy are traditionally discussed. Second, such content is highly ephemeral - subject to sudden removal or alteration by creators or platform-owners.This paper advances these debates by analyzing a recent, and controversial, form of social media engagement with the Shoah: user-generated videos circulated on TikTok. Since TikTok is a fairly new platform populated mostly by young people, it is not seen as a venue for serious education or outreach. News of user-generated videos purporting to take the perspective of Holocaust victims, survivors, or witnesses sparked public outrage and spurred swift removal in the fall of 2020, demonstrating just how marginal such content is. However, the lines between such point-of-view (POV) videos and the multi-modal educational experiences offered by Holocaust museums or sites of destruction are not entirely clear. The first aim of this paper is to identify what features these practices have in common and consider which are distinctive - and distinctively worrying about - TikTok. The second aim of the paper is to ask what legitimate uses TikTok videos might have for increasing public awareness of the Holocaust and aiding human rights advocacy. A comparison between inherently short-form TikTok videos and longer-format digital content (such as podcasts or audio-visual testimonies) shows that TikTok is not an appropriate venue for crafting oral histories or recording the testimony of survivors. But TikTok’s heavy reliance on montage, capabilities for layering text and visuals, and proprietary modes for “stitching” content from multiple users offer potentially valuable resources for advocacy campaigns.

Publication Date


Project Designation

Independent Research

Primary Advisor

Paul C. Morrow

Primary Advisor's Department

Human Rights Center


Stander Symposium project, College of Arts and Sciences

United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions

Fantasies of TikTok: The Limits of Social Media and Holocaust Advocacy