Incorrect sign language is all over TikTok, and it's a problem

‘British Sign Language has been created and evolved through generations,’ explains online content creator, Sam Egerton-Kemp.

‘To see hearing people culturally appropriating our language on social media to gain followers causes a lot of frustration and upset.’

Sam, 24, also known as Deaf Chef Official on Instagram, was born deaf, and was diagnosed at nine months old.

Born into a hearing family, he was taught British Sign Language (BSL) by his mum, who attended local classes, and passed on her skills. For him, BSL – his second language after spoken English – is invaluable.

However, Sam, like much of the deaf community, is concerned by a recent spike in incorrect sign language spreading online.

If you search the hashtag #deaftok on TikTok – which currently has more than 119 million views – you’ll find an array of videos of people signing along to popular songs, and ‘teaching’ signs. Some of these video are made by deaf creators, but many are not.

In the UK, deaf contestants on popular TV shows have contributed to an interest in signing amongst hearing people. When actress Rose Ayling-Ellis won Strictly Come Dancing in 2021, there was a surge in people enrolling onto BSL courses. And, Love Island’s Tasha Ghouri, who is deaf and wears a cochlear implant, raised awareness of deafness to a new audience, calling it her ‘superpower’.

More recently, smash hit TV show, The Last of Us, featured a character named Sam, who used American Sign Language (ASL). ASL has also been used in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, by deaf characters Echo and Makkari.

But while it’s great to see the world take more of an interest in sign language, those who actually rely on signing to communicate are worried about misinformation, and fake or incorrect signs, spreading online. Lots of videos on TikTok show creators showing off signs, that aren’t actually signs at all.

And these concerns are not always understood by hearing creators.

TikToker, Anthony Eagle Jr, aka @Chrimsan0, recently accused the deaf community of ‘gatekeeping’ and said, ‘I think it’s really crappy that they keep their language in a box.’

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