On May 13th, 2020, Isabella Lahoue published a story to Medium titled, “The Generation that Doesn’t Believe Helen Keller Existed” in which she describes finding out about the conspiracy theory while scrolling through TikTok, noting that it was mostly teenagers taking part in it. She theorizes that Keller isn’t taught as thoroughly in school as she should be, leading to teenagers not understanding how someone in her position can learn to speak and write. The article has since been removed.
On the same day, TikToker angel_cortez posted a now-deleted video denying Helen Keller’s disabilities, garnering over 709,000 views in just under eight months. On September 10th, TikToker vanillaapricot uploaded a skit where Keller accidentally waves back at her gardener, gaining over 10 million views in just under four months (shown below).
On December 10th, TikToker @krunk19 uploaded a video denying Keller’s existence, citing her handwriting, number of books written and the fact that she flew a plane as evidence, which garnered over 2.2 million views in two months (shown below).
On January 5th, 2021, Twitter user Daniel Kunka made a series of tweets talking about how his nieces and nephews were asked in a text chain if they knew about Helen Keller, to which they responded that she was a non-existent fraud (shown below). He details trying to convince his nieces otherwise but failing, with them insisting that others around her “pumped” Keller up and made her career. Kunka theorizes that this conspiracy about Keller could be due to “four years of fake news.” The tweet thread received over 24,100 likes, 5,300 retweets and 3,700 quote tweets in three days.
On January 6th, 2021, Newsweek published an article detailing the conspiracy. On January 7th, Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett published an article about Helen Keller denial on TikTok to The Guardian, where she claims that the conspiracy theory is ableist.
On January 19th, YouTuber Atozy uploaded a video discussing TikTok’s Helen Keller denial videos, garnering over 125,000 views in five weeks (shown below).
On February 9th, 2021, TikToker @baylieswackhamer posted a video with the on-screen caption, “a conspiracy theory i believe” followed by her evidence towards the statement, including her handwriting and the fact she wrote 12 books, garnering over 1.7 million views in two weeks (shown below).
“Helen Keller” Trends On Twitter
On an unknown date prior to February 21st, TikToker and teacher Samuel Sleeves uploaded a video filming himself while asking his students about various historical figures and events, to which none of them know the answers. At one point in the video, he asks them who Helen Keller is, to which they give a variety of wrong answers, including that she’s a “male Nazi” and that she outright doesn’t exist.
The original video has since been removed but was reuploaded by Twitter user @jamie2181 on February 21st under the caption, “So this is terrifying. History teacher discussing major events with Gen Z students” garnering over 33,900 likes and 16,200 retweets in two days (shown below).
So this is terrifying. History teacher discussing major events with Gen Z students. pic.twitter.com/dsXkn3pkc2
— Jamie (@jamie2181) February 21, 2021
The term “Helen Keller” started Trending on Twitter that day as the video spread. On the same day, Twitter user @clay_png tweeted, “Helen Keller being racist is one of the funniest things ever,” garnering over 100,000 likes and 6,100 retweets in two days.
On February 22nd, Twitter user @RTide69 posted a tweet implying the internet is making everyone dumber, which is why people fall for conspiracies like this, garnering over 7,100 likes and 950 retweets in a day (shown below, left). On the same day, Twitter user @shinnick_g made a post reminding people that popular conspiracy theories are fake, garnering over 8,700 likes and 1,300 retweets in a comparable span of time (shown below, right).
The conspiracy theory gained significant media attention over the course of the day, including stories from Daily Mail, Yahoo! Life and Distractify.
Many expressed frustration over the fact that people would deny Keller’s existence. For example, on February 22nd, Twitter user @kalasaurus tweeted, “Do yourself a favor and don’t try to figure out why Helen Keller is trending,” garnering over 4,000 likes in a day (shown below, left). Later that day, Twitter @1Schoolhouse tweeted expressing her sadness as a person with disabilities at seeing why the term was trending, garnering over 3,100 likes and 400 retweets in a comparable span of time (shown below, right).