Richard L. Cravatts, Ph.D., a Freedom Center Journalism Fellow in Academic Free Speech and President Emeritus of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, is the author of Jew-Hatred Rising: The Perversities of the Campus War Against Israel and Jews.
Mahatma Gandhi’s admonition that “It is wrong and immoral to seek to escape the consequences of one’s acts” might well apply to progressive activists who relentlessly offer up their often-toxic views yet furiously distance themselves from their view when challenged by their ideological opponents.
Consider, for example, the current controversy concerning Libs of TikTok, a very popular Twitter account run by Chaya Raichik which aggregates the rants and ravings of LGBT activists in their publicly posted videos. In April, Washington Post columnist Taylor Lorenz (pictured above) wrote a vicious expose of Raichik’s Twitter account, accusing Libs of TikTok of “doxxing” the creators of the videos and exposing LGBT educators and activists to harassment, hostility, even potential harm in response to their TikTok videos.
Lorenz’s screed against Libs of TikTok leaped to the conclusion that Raichik was involved in a vicious assault on the personal lives of LGBT TikTok creators and that the purpose of the Twitter account was to demean gay educators and provide fuel to right-wing critics alarmed by the sexualization and grooming of school children by woke educators who wish to promote inappropriate lessons on gender and sexuality. “Libs of TikTok reposts a steady stream of TikTok videos and social media posts, primarily from LGBTQ+ people,” Lorenz wrote in the Post column, “often including incendiary framing designed to generate outrage. Videos shared from the account quickly find their way to the most influential names in right-wing media,” Lorenz added, revealing her belief that Libs of TikTok exists only to provide fodder for right-wing critics of progressive trends in education and in our culture.
Lorenz went so far as to “doxx” Raichik herself, something which Lorenz complained the Twitter account was doing to the embarrassed TikTok users and which she even claimed, in a tearful interview, had been done to her as a result of her reporting prowess. “Members of the LGBTQ+ community,” Lorenz warned, “who still attempt to use platforms like TikTok to educate people on gay or trans issues are subject to intense online abuse, causing a chilling effect.”
But Lorenz’s main complaint was that the Libs of TikTok videos were having a negative effect on gay educators and other activists who posted there. “The account has emerged as a powerful force on the Internet,” Lorenz wrote, “shaping right-wing media, impacting anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and influencing millions by posting viral videos aimed at inciting outrage among the right.”
What Lorenz apparently failed to notice was that any outrage on the right might be justified given TikTok videos such as this example of a not atypical April 11th TikTok post in which an Oklahoma middle school teacher told his students that “If your parents don’t accept you for who you are, f*** them. I’m your parents now.”
And what she also ignores in her critique of the Libs of TikTok is the central fact that each user who posted objectionable content—including the Oklahoma school teacher who tells his students that from now on, he, not their parents, will be imparting moral and sexual lessons—each user had voluntarily and knowingly posted their respective videos on a very public social media platform, specifically for the purpose of gaining a wide audience and making the posts go viral.
That is the crucial point here, aside from the sometimes repulsive and inappropriate content. None of the individuals who posted the videos that find their way to Libs of TikTok had what in the law is called “an expectation of privacy.” Their private files were not hacked and exposed to the public against their will or without their knowledge. Raichik simply scours TikTok for videos that are problematic, outrageous, inappropriate, or immoral and reposts on Twitter the same videos users themselves had created and willingly posted on TikTok.
If anyone is to be blamed for the wide exposure some of the videos enjoy, it is the users who posted them in the first place, not Raichik.
The Libs of TikTok is not the only vehicle through which radical progressives “outed” themselves, ideologically, by going very public with their progressive views.
As part of the Israeli/Palestinian debate, radical activists have found themselves the subject of dossiers which included videos, tweets, writings, and transcripts of speeches—all public information—which expose their radicalism, anti-Israelism, and, sometimes, anti-Semitism. These so-called “blacklists” are such databases as Canary Mission, Discover the Networks, Campus Watch, the AMCHA Initiative, and other similar organizations, all of which have as their intention to provide students, faculty, and others with information on the ideology, scholarship, speeches, and writing of radical professors and students.
These are individuals (and groups) who have very public records of pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel activism and whose words and behavior have been cataloged so that the politicization of scholarship can be exposed, and students can avoid courses taught by professors with a predetermined and evident bias against Israel.
But even though the data included in these databases is gathered from the public expression of the individuals included in them, they are denounced as being insidious, reactionary, and reputationally dangerous to the individuals who are cataloged there, even though all of the information was gathered from publicly available sources. Nevertheless, when someone finds themselves included in Canary Mission, for instance, he or she is seemingly offended that their views are being widely exposed and their ideology recorded, despite the fact that they obviously felt comfortable enough to air their views in the first place.
Consider, for example, the particularly egregious case of this professed outrage at being outed at the University of Southern California, involving the vile Yasmeen Mashayekh, a student in the USC Viterbi School of Engineering who a group of some 60 USC faculty has accused of “ongoing open expressions of anti-Semitism and Zionophobia.”
What were some of the sentiments shared by the lovely Ms. Mashayekh, ironically, though possibly not coincidentally, a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion senator in USC’s graduate student government? As cataloged on Canary Mission, on May 9, 2021, Mashayekh tweeted, “I want to kill every motherf**king zionist.” When Canary Mission responded to that odious tweet with one of their own, claiming that her tweet was “horrifying,” Mashayekh tweeted: “Oh no how horrifying that I want to kill my colonizer!!”
In June, Mashayekh tweeted, “Death to Israel and its b**ch the US.” And retweeted a tweet that read, “May i****l [Israel] burn to the ground. #SaveSilwan.” And in case there was any doubt about her feelings about the Jewish state, her June tweets included such tolerant and loving expressions as, “If you are not for the complete destruction of Israel and the occupation forces then you’re anti-Palestinian;” “Death to Israel;” and “Yes I f**king love hamas now stfu [shut the f**k up].”
Once Mashayekh’s tweets had been made public, there was understandable blowback and condemnation for her puerile and caustic comments, but to her supporters, those who shared similar attitudes about Israel, she was a victim, not a hateful perpetrator.
And in keeping with her status as a crybully, Mashayekh, according to her defenders, was actually “an oppressed student who is being unfairly discriminated against for speaking on her people’s plight.” The actual perpetrator here? Not Mashayekh, her fellow Israel-haters claim, but “Canary Mission, an organization that systematically reveals the personal & private information of Palestinians and Black, Indigenous People of Color in an effort to launch targeted harassment campaigns against those who would dare to challenge colonial rule.”
In gathering and cataloging this data, however, neither the mentioned organizations nor Libs of TikTok furtively investigated the private lives of activists or campus radicals, nor did they hack into emails accounts, or take testimony from anonymous sources, or delve through association memberships, reading habits, or private writings without the individuals’ expectation that their expression would possibly be documented. Individuals who are on these databases were not spied upon by their fellow students nor were their courses videotaped furtively by students.
The findings — and this is the critical point that the Taylor Lorenz and critics of Canary Mission obviously ignore — are based on the public utterances, published works, and social media posts of LGBT activists, educators, and student radicals, behavior and speech they apparently had no problem with making public and for which they were not hesitant, at least initially, to take responsibility.
The deepest feelings, poet Marianne Moore once observed, emerge “not in silence, but restraint.” There’s a lesson there for those individuals who do not wish to see themselves on the Libs of TikTok or in Canary Mission’s database.