Anne Frank in the Twitterverse

By , December 26, 2016 12:59 pm

Anne FrankBana

I had a strong and strange reaction to a seemingly good news story in the newspaper – it was about the young Syrian girl, Bana Alabed,  who live-tweeted from Aleppo and has been compared to Anne Frank.

Upfront I shall admit to two biases that must have influenced my puzzling reaction to the courageous story: I once took an entire course on Anne Frank; I don’t do twitter.

There is no doubt in my mind that Bana Alabed is an incredibly brave and impressive girl. And she’s only seven, making her story so compelling. What’s irking me is not her, not the story. It’s how the contexts of both her and Anne’s stories bear so many resemblances. Though Anne was a bit older than Bana is now, Anne and Bana share tremendous similarities: their penchant for self-expression, their standout characters, their brave voices in the face of oppression.

Some people may forget that Anne Frank was a migrant. Anne Frank and her family were refugees from Frankfurt, Germany. Her parents had fled to Holland in order to escape the potential threats lurking for Jews in Nazi Germany. Anne was less than four years old at the time, 1933. By 1942 the family had gone into hiding as the situation for Jews in Amsterdam got worse.   As we sadly know, Anne and most of her family, save for her father, were found and taken by the Germans in 1944, with Anne ultimately dying in Bergen-Belsen in 1945.

I’m left with these questions…

If Anne were alive today in  a similar situation, let’s say in Aleppo, Syria, would she tweet? Would 140 characters be enough for her? (Anne edited her own diary – there are, in fact, multiple versions of the diary, the most well known being the one edited by her father, Otto.) Do tweeters edit their own voices? Is self-editing a good or bad thing?

If Anne were alive today, would her story be fact-checked, as Bana’s was? Bana was accused of not being in Aleppo. Fact-checking revealed she really was. Of course, fact-checking would have given Anne and her fellow hiders away.

Shortly after Bana’s tweet attracted hundreds of thousands of followers, she and her family were picked up by helicopter and flown to Turkey to meet with President Erdogan.  Would Anne and her family have been plucked from hiding and flown to safety? Where exactly would have been safe? It is not clear if Bana and her family are staying in Turkey.

In our fast-moving media and social media world, will Bana even be remembered in a few months? It seems that more people now get their 15 minutes (maybe even seconds) of fame these days. But oh how quickly we forget. Would Anne have come to be such an iconic figure if she were writing or tweeting today?

I wonder if this quote by Holocaust scholar Alvin Rosenfeld pertaining to Anne’s timeless presence still applies today:  “on the level of popular perceptions, a sense of the past seems to be shaped less on the basis of information contained in historical documents than through the projection of single images of ubiquitous and compelling power.”


I worry about the times we live in – everything seems so impermanent. The 2016 ship is sinking fast. Will we remember? What will follow? Most importantly, I wonder: have we learned anything?


2 Responses to “Anne Frank in the Twitterverse”

  1. Alice He says:

    As someone who uses Twitter frequently, I also worry about the impermanence of stories, struggles, and events which occur and are announced on social media. Often, I find myself wondering about both the pros and cons of social media in terms of raising awareness about injustices and taking action.
    For example, like you mentioned, had social media been around during Anne Frank’s era (look at me being presentist), perhaps her fate would have been different. Perhaps movements like the Resistance in France would have gained more traction like the present day Black Lives Matter movement, had social media existed. Or, like Bana’s family, would the presence of social media raised more awareness about anti-Semitism and how it affects families. These are ways social media could have helped Frank’s cause.
    At the same time, social media would not have, perhaps, positively impacted Anne Frank or change her fate and the persecuted during the Second World War. In some ways, social media desensitizes an individual. They become, used to seeing these graphic images on their social newsfeeds, and they also become accustomed to simply scrolling past. Again, a sort of impermanence. At the same time, social media can discourage real activism– not that is isn’t activism to speak out about injustices. People need to take action beyond the computer screen or twitter, an that is often forgotten on social media…

    these are just some of my thoughts.. this was a very thought-provoking blog post

    • Alice He says:

      correction. clarification : second paragraph, i mean” would the presence of social media have raised awareness about anti semitism, like it did about injustice towards refugees, migrants, etc. in Bana’s family’s case

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