'Vile and disgusting':TikTok faces backlash after 'autism challenge'

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images 

Social media platform TikTok has come under fire after videos mocking those with autism and other disabilities spread on the app under the hashtag "autism challenge."

Many of the clips, which have been labelled "disgusting and vile", are accompanied by the song "Let's Get Retarded".

Parents, and adults with autism, took to Twitter to share their grief, anger and frustration with TikTok  - and those sharing the videos. 

"Stop allowing ableism on your platform," wrote Shane Gentle. "Sincerely, an #ActuallyAutistic person who is disgusted."

"I let out all of my anger," said John. "It hurts me to see people doing this as a joke and to get 'clout.'"

"I fight every day for my son's right to be seen as equal and with one stupid TikTok you could have taken all that away," wrote Carla. 

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Mum, Kirsty Henderson, urged TikTok users to think before posting. "He might see it one day," she said.

The Autism Society of America called on TikTok to shut down the challenge and to apologise to the autism and disabilities communities "for this shameful activity."

"The Autism Society of America is extremely disturbed by the recent "Autism Challenge" that is currently appearing on TikTok," Christopher Banks, President and CEO of the Autism Society of America said in a statement. "Now, more than ever, we must come together to promote acceptance to create a more inclusive world, not use hate to divide us."

The platform has since removed the hashtag, noting in a statement. "This content does not reflect our values and is against the code of conduct outlined in our Community Guidelines. The hashtag in question has been removed and we will take action against any further content that violates our policies."

The new controversy comes just months after doctors warned parents about the potentially fatal skull-breaker challenge, which went viral on TikTok prior to COVID-19. The prank left multiple teens in hospital, with one experiencing a seizure after hitting his head.

As more users logged onto the site during self-isolation, the platform accelerated their release of new safety tools, including removing direct messages for users under 16 and a Family Pairing option. 

"We are committed to giving parents insight into, and control over, how their teens use TikTok and helping facilitate important conversations within families about the responsible navigation of digital platforms," the company said in a statement at the time. "We believe these options promote a safer and more trustworthy experience for our users of all ages, but our progress in this area is also never finished."