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LibsOfTikTok ‘Doxxed’ Controversy

On April 19 2022, Washington Post writer Taylor Lorenz’s profile of the @LibsOfTikTok account was published — followed by intense discourse about whether the subject of the piece was “doxxed” by the outlet.

Early that morning, Lorenz tweeted a link to the piece, which identified the creator, Chaya Raichik, behind @LibsOfTikTok — an account with more than 700,000 followers as of April 19 2022:

The @LibsOfTikTok Washington Post Profile

In the piece, journalist Taylor Lorenz described the purpose of the piece — examining a highly influential Twitter account which curates topics for outlets like Fox News. Lorenz also referenced several incidents and events, using them to illustrate how strong @LibsOfTikTok’s reach appeared to be.

In the first few paragraphs of the article, Lorenz noted that the account owner had recently elected to appear on Tucker Carlson’s television show anonymously. The detail stood in contrast with the subjects of @LibsOfTikTok’s content, who are not afforded the same anonymity:

On March 8 [2022], a Twitter account called Libs of TikTok posted a video of a woman teaching sex education to children in Kentucky, calling the woman in the video a “predator.” The next evening, the same clip was featured on Laura Ingraham’s Fox News program, prompting the host to ask, “When did our public schools, any schools, become what are essentially grooming centers for gender identity radicals?”

[…]

The anonymous account’s impact is deep and far-reaching. Its content is amplified by high-profile media figures, politicians and right-wing influencers. Its tweets reach millions, with influence spreading far beyond its more than 635,000 Twitter followers. Libs of TikTok has become an agenda-setter in right-wing online discourse, and the content it surfaces shows a direct correlation with the recent push in legislation and rhetoric directly targeting the LGBTQ+ community.

[…]

The account has been promoted by podcast host Joe Rogan, it’s been featured in the New York Post, the Federalist, the Post Millennial and a slew of other right-wing news sites. Meghan McCain has retweeted it. The online influencer Glenn Greenwald has amplified it to his 1.8 million Twitter followers while calling himself the account’s “Godfather.” [On April 14 2022], the woman behind the account appeared anonymously on Tucker Carlson’s show to complain about being temporarily suspended for violating Twitter’s community guidelines. Fox News often creates news packages around the content that Libs of TikTok has surfaced.

Lorenz catalogued a stream of changes to the account’s handle and popularity, tracking its rise to prominence in partisan discourse. The article also identified its creator, as mentioned, as Chaya Raichik, detailing @LibsOfTikTok’s sharply increasing influence through 2022:

Libs of TikTok gained more prominence throughout the end of [2021], cementing its spot in the right-wing media outrage cycle. Its attacks on the LGBTQ+ community also escalated. By January [2022], Raichik’s page was leaning hard into “groomer” discourse, calling for any teacher who comes out as gay to their students to be “fired on the spot.”

Her anti-trans tweets went especially viral. She called on her followers to contact schools that were allowing “boys in the girls bathrooms” and pushed the false conspiracy theory that schools were installing litter boxes in bathrooms for children who identify as cats … By March [2022], Libs of TikTok was directly impacting legislation. DeSantis’s press secretary Christina Pushaw credited the account with “opening her eyes” and informing her views on the state’s restrictive legislation that bans discussion of sexuality or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, referred to by critics as the “don’t say gay” bill. She and Libs of TikTok have interacted with each other at least 138 times publicly, according to a report by Media Matters. When asked by The Post about her relationship with the account, Pushaw wrote, “I follow, like and retweet libsoftiktok. My interactions with that account are public,” and added that she’s a strong supporter of its mission.

The Discussion

Almost immediately, social media lit up as people began debating whether Raichik wasdoxxed” by the Washington Post (and who was at fault for the ensuing outrage):

Lorenz responded with a meme:

Media Reactions

Right-wing pundit Ben Shapiro’s Daily Wire blog quickly responded with “‘Straight Trash’: Twitter Explodes As Washington Post Reveals Who Runs Libs Of TikTok Account,” alleging that Raichik was “doxxed”:

The wildly popular Twitter account known as “Libs of TikTok” simply holds a mirror up to the radical Left, but apparently that’s just too embarrassing for one media figure who doxxed the woman behind it.

The move, by Taylor Lorenz, a reporter at The Washington Post and formerly of The New York Times, prompted a massive backlash from prominent figures on Twitter. Critics say revealing the identity of the woman, who scours TikTok for extreme hot takes from the far-left and posts them without comment, serves no newsworthy purpose … The Libs of TikTok account, which has about 663,000 followers, also shared an update. [Chaya Raichik], who The Daily Wire is not naming, said she was safe and thanked everyone for their concern and well wishes as her identity, job details, and other personal details were published [on April 19 2022].

The New York Post‘s “Taylor Lorenz slammed as ‘hypocrite’ for ‘doxxing’ ‘Libs of TikTok’ creator” was similar:

Taylor Lorenz, the Washington Post’s internet culture beat reporter, is being accused of “doxxing” the anonymous woman who operates the popular Twitter account “Libs of TikTok.”

Lorenz, the former New York Times journalist who earlier this month broke down in tears on MSNBC while recounting “harassment” she has experienced online, published an article on [April 19 2022] revealing the identity of the social media user.

“Doxxing” is the term used to describe the act of posting the personal information of those who wish to remain anonymous.

WNWO regurgitated the doxxing claim.

Was Chaya Raichik Doxxed?

According to Kapersky.com’s entry on “doxing”:

Doxing (sometimes written as Doxxing) is the act of revealing identifying information about someone online, such as their real name, home address, workplace, phone, financial, and other personal information. That information is then circulated to the public — without the victim’s permission.

However, the examples provided by the site were not in line with identifying a notable figure in a news story, and undermined Raichik’s claim that she had been “doxxed”:

Recently, doxing has become a tool in the culture wars, with rival hackers doxing those who hold opposing views the opposite side. Doxers aim to escalate their conflict with targets from online to the real world, by revealing information which includes:

  • Home addresses
  • Workplace details
  • Personal phone numbers
  • Social security numbers
  • Bank account or credit card information
  • Private correspondence
  • Criminal history
  • Personal photos
  • Embarrassing personal details

Doxing attacks can range from the relatively trivial, such as fake email sign-ups or pizza deliveries, to the far more dangerous ones, like harassing a person’s family or employer, identity theft, threats, or other forms of cyberbullying, or even in-person harassment.

Controversy over the identity of the powerful @LibsOfTikTok account wasn’t the first time false claims of “doxxing” were used to discourage coverage of notable accounts, people, and events. Back in 2017, Wired’s “Don’t Let the Alt-Right Fool You: Journalism Isn’t Doxing” explained in detail how reporters were not “doxxing” subjects of critical analysis.

That article provided an example of when a journalist veered into “doxxing,” and why reporting on notable material wasn’t doxxing:

But real and important differences exist between doxing and reporting. For one, most doxing is done by anonymous agents. Reporters have bylines, and can therefore be held accountable—ethically, legally, financially—for the words they write and the repercussions those words have. Reporters announce their intentions and their profession openly, while dox-ers could be anybody. Reporters include only personal information that is relevant to a story—facts the public has an compelling interest in knowing.

That’s why a Politico editor releasing Richard Spencer’s address was still doxing: the public should know Richard Spencer is a white supremacist, but they don’t need to know where he lives. “Conflating doxing and journalism risks blurring or eliminating the public interest goal of good journalism,” says Andrew Zolides, a digital media scholar who has taught courses about doxing at University of Wisconsin-Madison. Arguing for journalism over doxing is the same argument for leaking to a trusted publication (via SecureDrop, say) instead of Wikileaks: the training, expertise, and caution of professionals matters.

Yet, flattening the distinctions between doxing and journalism threatens to normalize doxing even beyond where it is now. “Worst case is it snuffs out certain discourse, and people are afraid to speak to people outside their class or party,” says Zolides. According to Binns, that’s already happening: her research shows 15 percent of journalists have stopped pursuing certain stories, fearing online blowback. And then there’s that whole filter bubble problem. “Then again,” Zolides adds. “We don’t want to think about conversation without repercussion.”

With respect to @LibsOfTikTok’s purpose, Lorenz’s piece noted:

Though Raichik has claimed to run the account alone, last August [2021] Grant Lally, a lawyer and Republican operative, filed a trademark for Libs of TikTok as a “news reporter service.” Lally said he is “not at liberty” to comment when reached by The Post.

Summary

As @LibsOfTikTok’s influence sharply increased, Washington Post reporter Taylor Lorenz covered the reach of the account, and how it influenced other forms of media. Lorenz revealed Chaya Raichik’s name, but didn’t include unnecessary personal information; Raichik’s account was used to spread disinformation with regularity. Several bad faith analyses and Twitter takes followed, all accusing the outlet of “doxxing” Raichik — a person who, until that point, ran the influential account anonymously. Lorenz reported that a lawyer filed a trademark for the account as a “news reporter service” in August 2021.

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