Problematic on TikTok is a weekly column that unpacks the troubling trends that are emerging on the popular platform and runs on Tuesdays in the Daily Dot’s web_crawlr newsletter. If you want to get this column a day before we publish it, subscribe to web_crawlr, where you’ll get the daily scoop of internet culture delivered straight to your inbox.
TikToks posted by The Olympics’ official account in the last week include a comparison of gymnast Simone Biles’ floor routine to that of a female olympian almost sixty years ago, footage of an olympian winning two middle-distance running events at the 2004 summer games, and an artistic swimming olympian showing how she wears her hair to compete in her event.
Meanwhile, the Paralympics’ official TikTok account, which showcases the athletes with physical disabilities competing in its games, tells a different story about its participants. Unlike the Olympics’ official account, which stresses the physical feats and endurance of its athletes, the Paralympics’ account makes fun of its athletes.
One video shows an amputee cyclist cycling without his right leg over a TikTok audio yelling “left, left, left, left, left,” seeming to poke fun that the cyclist can only use his left leg. Another shows the accommodations that blind swimmers receive to help them avoid hitting pool walls—being tapped on their head or shoulders—to a TikTok audio of the “Bop It” game sound. When a blind swimmer is seen winning an event, the audio says “wow! You beat Bop It!”
And finally, a video of a paralympic ping pong player falling off of his wheelchair was set to a distorted version of the Thomas the Train Engine theme song. In the video’s comments section, the Paralympics account wrote the name of the athlete and “DERDERDERDER, DER DER, DER…”
Twitter users have taken notice of the tone of the Paralympics’ TikTok videos.
“Bit weird that the [official] Paralympics TikTok has so many videos mocking their own athletes,” @ycsm1n tweeted. “Allegedly a few paralympians have spoken about the account and how they don’t appreciate the memes, they’d much rather be appreciated for their athleticism (and rightfully so considering how hard they work).”
Brenna Huckaby, a Paralympian and professional snowboarder, commented on one of the Paralympics’ videos saying she didn’t love the way that paralympic athletes were portrayed in the TikTok account.
“I wish they showcased our athleticism more than the memes,” Huckaby wrote.
Why it matters
These athletes are breaking barriers and defying the ableist stigma that people with disabilities can’t be competitive athletes the ways that non-disabled athletes can—only to be, seemingly, further stigmatized by the games’ official TikTok account.
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