Influencer asking people to stay off social media for mental health, Palestinians search a house after an Israeli air strike

@crutches_and_spice/TikTok Anas-Mohammed/ShutterStock (Licensed)

‘Now is not the time to turn a blind eye’: TikTok influencer blasted for urging people to ‘look away’ from situation in Gaza for their own mental health

'The only thing that they want is somebody to bear witness and not forget them.'


Braden Bjella


Posted on Oct 15, 2023

As the conflict between Israel and Palestine continues, the social media feeds of users across the internet are filled with horrifying images and stories. 

Some are responding to this by finding ways to limit their exposure to these pictures and on-the-ground reports. One such person is popular TikToker and self-proclaimed citizen journalist Vitus “V” Spehar, who posted a since-deleted TikTok encouraging users to “stay off social media for the rest of the weekend.”

While this was framed as a plea for users to protect their mental health, many users were quick to criticize V, stating that turning away from social media would be a “privilege” and would be erasing history. One such TikTok user was disability activist Imani Barbarin (@crutches_and_spice) who stitched Spehar’s video to note what she says are the consequences of this intentional ignorance.

@crutches_and_spice #stitch with @UnderTheDeskNews ♬ Girls are the Best (feat. Tanya McCabe) – Kyle Gordon

“I honestly don’t know what to say, but the part I keep coming back to is that the entire world turned its back on the people in Gaza, and they said, ‘Make sure you take care of your mental health,’” Barbarin explains. “Knowing that everybody abandoned them, they’re sharing their stories and they’re saying their goodbyes. They’re burying their children and their loved ones and the people they share community with.”

“And the part that keeps breaking me is that knowing that nobody’s coming to rescue them, the only thing that they want is somebody to bear witness and not forget them,” she continues.

She then says that she’s been reading, printing out, and writing down stories from the people of Gaza and that she encourages others to do the same.

“History is not made by the ‘winners’ or the ‘losers,’ but by those who bear witness and keep a record,” she concludes.

Since the beginning of the recent conflict, over 1,300 Israelis and over 2,215 Palestinians have been killed. The number is likely to increase given both the ongoing nature of the conflict and the fact that, according to The Guardian, “about 2.3 million people are trapped in Gaza.”

”Israel has sealed all crossings into its territory and Egypt reinforced its border crossing, saying it would not allow refugees to enter,” reads the piece in The Guardian. This policy is not new, as Gazans have lacked the ability to leave without special permission for some time.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog also recently appeared to suggest that he did not believe that the population of the Gaza Strip not associated with Hamas was innocent, saying in a press conference, “It is an entire nation out there that is responsible. It is not true this rhetoric about civilians not being aware, not involved. It’s absolutely not true. They could have risen up. They could have fought against that evil regime which took over Gaza in a coup d’etat.”

As for Hamas’ motivation for their initial attack, “in an interview with NPR on Tuesday, Ali Barakeh, a senior Hamas official based in Lebanon, said the Oct. 7 attack came in response to ‘Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people in Jerusalem and the West Bank’ and to ‘break the blockade on the Gaza Strip.’ He said it was also meant to free thousands of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails,” write Scott Neuman and Jawad Rizkallah for NPR.

Israel says that both the nature and scope of its current retaliatory attacks are in line with its defensive position in the conflict. They also say that their current actions against Gaza, such as their attempts to cut off food, water, electricity, and gas, are in the interest of defending their nation.

On TikTok, users shared their thoughts on Barbarin’s video.

“It’s so tragic to watch,” a user wrote. “I’m so lost for words myself, we have to speak up.”

“Thanks for this, I was about to turn my back because it was overwhelming. But how overwhelming must it be to live throughout this?” added another.

Other TikTokers followed Barbarin and stitched V’s video as well, with one user calling her out for encouraging folks to “turn a blind eye” during such an important moment and another user comparing the move to other tragedies in history being downplayed such as the Tulsa Race Massacre and the Trail of Tears.

The Daily Dot reached out to Barbarin and Spehar via email.

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*First Published: Oct 15, 2023, 9:41 am CDT