Helen Keller: why is a TikTok conspiracy theory undermining her story?

Despite her record as a writer and activist, what may have begun as a joke has gained traction, and should make us ask questions that go beyond the credulity of Gen Z

When the internet is riddled with conspiracy theories, it can be difficult to decide which to worry about. While QAnon and Pizzagate are proving themselves to have radicalising potential with real-world repercussions, others are flourishing beneath the radar, or certainly going unnoticed by anyone over the age of 25. What I mean to say is: teenagers on TikTok doubt the existence of Helen Keller.

I know – I had to read that sentence a few times, too. How could Keller’s existence be up for debate? There is extant film footage of the author, activist and disability rights advocate, who became deafblind after a childhood illness, learned to communicate using hand gestures and to understand others through the Tadoma method, and learned how to speak. She attended Harvard, wrote 12 books and many more essays and lectures. Her autobiography was adapted for film and stage. She travelled the world, campaigning on civil rights, labour rights and women’s suffrage. Her book on socialism was burned by the Nazis. She died in 1968. Her birthplace is now a museum.

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