When a well-known reporter on the internet culture beat writes about a viral right-wing social media account, what’s the proper response? Well, if you’re a conservative on the internet, the best course of action is to get really upset and let everyone on Twitter know just how you’re feeling.
That’s the method a special segment of Twitter deployed Monday upon learning of Washington Post columnist Taylor Lorenz’s plans to publish a story about the wildly popular (and much maligned) Libs of TikTok — an openly bigoted and homophobic social media account that reposts so-called “liberal” content culled from various platforms repackaged to produce maximum engagement via rage clicks.
Libs of TikTok is a favorite among terminally online conservatives, who believe the account’s cherry-picked curation of primarily LGBT-oriented content lends credence to right-wing conspiracy theories claiming America’s youth are being coerced and “groomed” into homosexuality and transgenderism.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ press secretary and right-wing Twitter figurehead Christina Pushaw ignited the backlash against Lorenz when she shared a screenshot of an email purportedly from the journalist, which stated the Post is “running a story exposing the woman behind the ‘Libs of TikTok’ account.” The alleged email also mentions Pushaw’s “many interactions” with Libs of TikTok — echoing a recent Media Matters report examining Pushaw’s questionable admiration for the account, which noted that DeSantis’ mouthpiece and Libs of TikTok “have interacted with each other at least 138 times since June 2021.”
Calling the Post “oligarch-owned State Media” Pushaw suggested Lorenz’s Journalism 101 behavior is tantamount to harassment. “[Lorenz] has no problem using Bezos money to stalk a private citizen’s relatives by showing up at their HOMES,” she wrote, later claiming that such due-diligence reporting is “restraining order level crazy.”
Lorenz has become a firebrand for conservatives in recent weeks, primarily due to a recent MSNBC appearance during which she said she suffers from “severe PTSD” due to the harassment she’s received on the internet. Conservative social media users latched onto Lorenz’s statement, gleefully implying the harassment was appropriate punishment for Lorenz’s prior reporting missteps.
Lorenz is disliked so much by right-wingers that they seemingly ignored the Daily Dot’s relatively thorough investigation into the identity of Libs of TikTok’s creator on April 18 — or that a software developer was able to track all usernames previously associated with the Libs of TikTok Twitter account earlier this month. The username discovery allowed Daily Dot reporter Claire Goforth to find a link between Libs of TikTok and a Brooklyn-based realtor, dropping information that any savvy internet user could piece together to construct a probable doxxing — but now that Lorenz is on the beat? It’s finally time to get outraged.
Libs of TikTok emerged on social media in early 2021, its popularity buoyed by capitalizing upon the nonsensical fear-mongering beliefs that took hold in conservative circles during the buildup to the presidential election. Banned from both TikTok and Instagram (and suspended numerous times by Twitter), the account is now focused on cultivating an audience not on mainstream social media platforms, engaging with audiences via a newsletter and on notoriously right-leaning sites including Gettr, Rumble, and Gab. (Spreading misinformation and fear-mongering hate speech sure is a busy job!)
Among the myriad on-brand pearl-clutching moments promoted by Libs of TikTok: expressing horror that college students (who, let’s be real, have definitely seen much more) are being exposed to anatomically correct vulvae; calling mask mandates for unvaccinated toddlers “child abuse;” stating that teaching elementary school students the proper terminology for genitalia amounts to “grooming;” and getting inexplicably angry that LGBT-identifying high schoolers are allowed to dance with one another. (In case you were worried the right had moved on from its obsession with race, don’t worry. Libs of TikTok has you covered in all racism-baiting departments, too!) The account is also responsible for continuing to spread the since-debunked urban legend that schools are providing litter boxes in restrooms for students who participate in the furry fandom.
Under normal circumstances, identifying the brains behind an anonymous viral social media account would be of minor importance — but there’s a particular urgency and public interest to unmasking Libs of TikTok. In addition to a recent interview on Tucker Carlson Tonight, the account’s creator has appeared multiple times on Fox News, which routinely sources stories from videos and photos shared to Libs of TikTok accounts. The account has also been promoted by the likes of the New York Post and controversial podcaster Joe Rogan. Earlier this month, Media Matters called the account a “critical piece of infrastructure in the right-wing media machine” — and with many prominent conservative figures, including civil servants, among the account’s over 650,000 followers, it’s easy to see why. Libs of TikTok’s reach is vast, and the content the account shares is driving conversations — and, perhaps, policy — in conservative circles.
The fear of being outed to an international audience was enough to force the account’s operator into hiding, claiming on Twitter that they are “currently holed up in a safe location” — a curious move for someone who appears to have no issue with podcast interviews or speaking with Tucker Carlson in a puff piece-esque segment, albeit delivering canned responses to Carlson’s less than hard-hitting prompts. After all, disseminating homophobe-baiting content is effortless when defended by the protective shield of anonymity, where real-world consequences to real-world actions are easily avoided.
Lorenz, meanwhile, seems absolutely unfazed by the response to her piece, which published early Tuesday morning.