"Libs of TikTok" unmasked in Washington Post exposé

Libs of TikTok is a popular Twitter account that posts clips of liberal, lefty and LGBTQ people saying outrageous things, right-wing memes, and so on. It's got half a million followers, is indifferent to the truth, and even boasts about getting teachers fired. Its postings have been repackaged by conservative media including Fox News and the New York Post, both of which have profiled the anonymous author. Today The Washington Post published its own profile, naming conservatism's latest rising star for the first time and detailing her connections to right-wing causes and GOP operatives.

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. She also purported that adults who teach children about LGBTQ+ identities are "abusive," that being gender-nonconforming or an ally to the LGBTQ+ community is a "mental illness," and referred to schools as "government run indoctrination camps" for the LGBTQ+ community. … By March, 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. As the legislation progressed before eventually being signed into law on March 28, Libs of TikTok ramped up attacks, flooding its feed with accusations of "grooming."

It turns out that Libs of TikTok' author, Chaya Raichik, had in fact been identified online before this story—she'd registered the domain LibsofTikTok.us last October using her full name—and the story is also about the online sleuths who unraveled the thread. But it also reveals the involvement of a GOP operative, Grant Lally, and the reactionary rage overWaPo reporting all this out is spectacular in its own right.

Alt-right fabulist Mike Cernovich calls it "terrorism". Influencer Glenn Greenwald launched into a lengthy late-night rant attacking its author. Conspiracy theorist Jack Pobosiec cast it as an attack by the "regime". Ben Shapiro claims the account "just posts Leftists owning themselves"—a claim belied by simply looking at its current mix of hysterical ranting and memes about "grooming". Given that Libs of TikTok was considered newsworthy by mainstream conservative media and that its author wants its targets fired, the first impulse of many is to accuse this lot of hypocrisy. This is reasonable, especially given their usual pose of fighting for free speech and against cancel culture. But to accuse them of hypocrisy is to miss the point of what they do. Stoking rage on the right is by far the best job in journalism, if you can hack it. And Libs of TikTok is the new master of the form.

On a recent podcast, Raichik said that as her following continues to grow, the fullest extent of her impact may not be realized until the elections this fall. She has encouraged her audience to overtake school boards and run in local elections. "These people," she said, referring to members of LGBTQ+ community, "some of them are literally evil and grooming kids, they should not be in schools, they should not be teachers."

I'm fascinated by the bizarre succession of personas and masks the author adopted along the way to becoming Libs of Tik Tok.

She also began posting about Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), calling him "actually brilliant." By early last March, she pivoted to a parody account titled @houseplantpotus, pretending to tweet as if she was a houseplant living with President Biden. She revamped her avatar to look like a small shrub with Biden's face on the leaves. At that point in time she also claimed to be proudly Orthodox Jewish, live in Brooklyn and work in real estate in her Twitter bio. But the house plant parody never took off.

I wrote a short story a few years ago about this online type, which you can read here: Hakim, the Masked Gamer of Minneapolis.