Libs of TikTok has been much in the news recently after a column by the Washington Post’s Taylor Lorenz and a suspension by Twitter. Lorenz was on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” on which Brian Stelter praises her writing and said that “I can’t wait to see what you’re working on next.”
However, it was one of the key justifications for the piece that stood out in the interview. Lorenz said that Washington Post targeted the host because she might be a foreigner. Since the Russian collusion stories, the media has been whipping up a fear of how “foreigners” are secretly influencing our society, politics, and culture. It increasingly seems like “They might be foreigners” is now the rallying cry for the left to justify every excess.
The Post column ran around the same time that Twitter moved against the Libs of TikTok. The suspension was particularly bizarre because the site was accused of “hateful conduct” due to its re-posting of liberals talking about themselves. Notably, there are many sites that watch and repost videos of evangelical ministers and conservative figures for use on liberal sites. That includes “Right Wing Watch” run by the liberal People for the American Way.
Lorenz came under attack for joining liberal groups like Media Matters in targeting Libs of TikTok. Both Lorenz and these other groups admit that they went after the site because it was having an impact in the debate over alleged radical agendas in schools.
Many on the right objected that Lorenz just appeared on national television in an emotional interview on how “horrifying” and unfair it was to be targeted in the media. That led to critics objecting to her pursuit of the host of this site and publishing details on her work and identity:
Lorenz’s view is that the site is now so influential, the identity of the founder was legitimate news. However, the piece had classic elements of a hit job, particularly given the collateral actions taken by groups like Media Matters and Twitter.
Lorenz and the Washington Post joined in the characterization of the site as engaged in hate speech for re-posting views of these teachers. Lorenz told CNN that this is “an LGBTQ hate account that’s the whole goal is to get trans and LGBTQ people sort of excluded from public life and drive these very harmful narratives around trans people.”
However, Lorenz insisted that she and the Post were concerned that those damn foreigner might be behind the site:
“Well, it wasn’t — I would say it’s equally important describing the power that this account has,” she said. “I think it’s rare to see an account gain so much prominence so quickly and be shaping these narratives in such an effective way, especially against trans people. So, I was — I mean, my story was kind of long, but I really wanted to make the case like why this account mattered. And I think it’s incredibly important, you know, as someone that covers the influencer industry to know who is exerting influence in this way. I mean, for all we knew, this could have been a foreign actor, right, or someone — we just didn’t know.”
Of course, she obviously learned that there were not foreigner actors behind the site but still did the hit piece. However, the question is why it would have matter if the host was someone in another country who had the same objections to such alleged radical agendas in schools.
There is a growing xenophobic element to such reporting that harkens back to far right groups in the 1950s. It is particularly striking in someone who covers “influencers,” a group of people on social media that is notably transnational in scope. Social media has erased national borders with many of the most influential figures coming from outside of the country. Likewise, many political movements are transnational with NGOs and civil liberties groups working across borders.
Notably, the Oxford English Dictionary says that “xenophobia” first appeared in a London weekly in 1909 when German and Italian archaeologists did not like the views of a French historian and geographer that contradicted their own conclusions on ancient Rome. They attacked the viewpoints of Paul Frédéric Gauckler on the basis that he was a foreigner.
The Washington Post itself has denounced such xenophobic “fear-mongering” arguments, though tying it to the right and Trump.
Notably, Stelter (who has been a voice for censorship to combat disinformation) did not ask why the Post did not look into possible foreigners lurking behind other influential sites from the left. He simply accepted the old saw that “they might be foreigners” to justify targeting a conservative site as if Lorenz just happened to light upon Libs of TikTok.
Lorenz was unchallenged in explaining:
“You know, attention whether it’s YouTube account or Instagram or TikTok or Twitter, and I think we need to, you know, take a step back and make sure we know who we’re getting our news from, make sure that things are framed correctly and not just buy into things that, you know, feed into our — the point of views that we already have, if that makes sense.”
It might make a little more “sense” if the Post targets sites with equal vigor on the left to see if there were any foreigners hiding in the shadows trying to “frame” our discussions or “feed into our …point of views.” Once again, however, the focus on the nationality of such influencers raises serious questions over the suspicion or vilification of influencers because they are not Americans. We live in a global marketplace of ideas and, yes, influences. Indeed, this blog often comments on attacks on free speech or other rights in foreign countries. Indeed, many LGBT advocates (including critics of Libs of TikToc) are foreign citizens but their views are not diminished by their nationality.
There was another interesting part of the interview when Lorenz attacked the host for deleting tweets:
“you know, case in point, this woman deleted thousands of tweets the day my article came out because she realized that she was going to be under increased scrutiny and that she could get — that people are really going to start looking at her account.”
Lorenz has been accused of locking her account to prevent access in the past. Most recently, there was a controversy that thousands of old tweets by Lorenz have been removed from the archives accessible by the WayBack Machine (though there is no response on whether Lorenz requested such removal).
Here is the interview: