(April 20, 2022 / JNS) Most people are focusing on the hypocrisy involved in The Washington Post doxxing an Orthodox Jewish woman who anonymously ran the popular conservative Twitter and Instagram accounts known as @libsoftiktok. The person who ran them had said that she feared retaliation from those who didn’t like her politics and had chosen to remain anonymous. But Post reporter Taylor Lorenz tracked down Chaya Raichik, showed up at her relatives’ homes and then published an article that included links to professional documents that listed the woman’s home address and place of business. And though the story was about the social-media accounts she ran, which recycle extremist rants from left-wingers, Lorenz also went out of her way to note that Raichik was an Orthodox Jew.
The Post’s decision to expose Raichik was highly debatable, but putting a spotlight on her religion, which wasn’t necessarily germane to the question of whether there was something inherently wrong or controversial about her social-media accounts, was equally troubling. But most of the blowback about the story centered around the fact that only a few weeks earlier, Lorenz, who previously covered technology and the Internet for The New York Times and the Daily Beast, had gone on MSNBC to complain in a viral video about being subjected to criticism that led to online harassment and threats. Yet what she would soon do to Raichik was far worse. Until the Post article came out, Raichik was a private person; Lorenz would go on to publish details about her life and expose her to exactly the same kind of harassment that she herself had wept about on television.
The willingness of one of the country’s largest newspapers to devote so much space to finding out who it was that was posting under the anonymous tag of @libsoftiktok may have puzzled those who don’t follow the world of social media. They must be equally astonished at the newspaper’s decision to publish Raichik’s personal information—a disreputable practice known as doxxing, as well as to highlight her faith at a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise in the United States.
The real question here is not so much the willingness of a mainstream media giant to target someone whose politics are reviled by its liberal staff and readership. It’s whether the substance of what Raichik had been doing—reposting content posted on social media by left-wingers so as to provoke discussion about social and political issues—is fair comment or, as Lorenz’s article argued, a form of hate speech intended to generate prejudice against the LGBTQ community.
Raichik’s past social-media profile before starting LibsofTikTok showed her to be an ardent supporter of former President Donald Trump and a critic of President Joe Biden. A previous satirical account run by her went under the name of President Houseplant, an ongoing jibe at Biden. At that time, she was still identifying herself as an Orthodox Jew on her account, so some, like JTA reporter Ron Kampeas, think that it was fair game to out her as one even after she had chosen anonymity.
One can argue that anyone who engages in political discourse should do so openly and under their own name. But in a journalistic environment in which people like Lorenz can become stars by specializing in exposing people to opprobrium by uncovering heretofore private information about their lives, a desire for anonymity is understandable. For example, Lorenz wrote a piece for the Daily Beast that brought to the public’s attention the fact that the mother of two young Jewish women known as popular non-political social media influencers was right-wing activist Pamela Geller. Whatever you may think of Geller, the result of that article, which labeled her as an Islamophobe, was that her daughters were booted from a talk show they hosted and subjected to online harassment even though they had nothing to do with their mother’s activities.
Those who speak out in public on controversial issues for a living, like opinion columnists, have always known that hate mail and insults on social media come with the territory. Professional journalists shouldn’t whine about this sort of thing in public. But we live in an era in which every citizen with a social-media account has a platform on which they can express their views and can achieve a degree of prominence if they are retweeted by someone with a huge following. Subjecting them to the same scrutiny that has always applied to journalism professionals is neither fair nor appropriate. And when such scrutiny involves, as the Post’s article did, actual doxxing—whose only possible purpose is to render them vulnerable to exactly the kind of danger that Lorenz cried about—it becomes outrageous.
Just as important is the fact that the Post seemed to think Raichik’s account is inherently illegitimate. The content she posted was all authentic Internet material. Much of it had to do with the issue of sexualizing young children, a topic that has been in the news because of Florida’s HB1557 law that supports the right of parents to be involved in actions regarding their children’s well-being and limits the discussion of gay and transgender issues in classrooms at the kindergarten to third-grade level to those elements that are age or developmentally appropriate. Indeed, many on the left, including the Post article, alleged that the videos reposted by Raichik led Florida’s Gov. Ron DeSantis to push for the passage of the legislation, which liberal media outlets have mislabeled as a “don’t say gay” law.
That Raichik’s account has earned a large following and been featured by conservative media is not in doubt. Still, the notion that a shadowy religious Jew is pulling the strings behind people in power is a classic anti-Semitic trope. That Washington Post columnist Megan McArdle spoke up in defense of Raichik’s being doxxed by her colleague by tweeting that the fact that the victim is Orthodox means the exposure of her personal details was no big deal is just the icing on the prejudiced cake.
The notion put forward by the Post article that Raichik’s reposts are a form of hate speech—a bogus claim that has led to a number of temporary suspensions by Twitter—is a remarkable inversion of the truth. What Raichik does is to expose extremist statements relating to the inappropriate sexualizing of children posted publicly by the speakers. In a different context, that is exactly what groups like the Anti-Defamation League do when it comes to various kinds of hate speech. Yet the same people who applaud when those extremists are exposed think there is something wrong with doing it in this case.
Many are made uncomfortable with the content that Raichik posts. But Lorenz’s claim that she is fueling hatred by exposing those with extreme views not only doesn’t stand up to scrutiny but would never even be brought up if the subjects of her activity were on the other side of the political spectrum. Moreover, the idea that there is something particularly unwholesome about a religious Jew engaging on the issue of the safety of children or in conservative advocacy is itself bizarre.
One need not be a fan of LibsofTikTok to realize that the decision of a major pillar of the media establishment that is owned by a Big Tech oligarch like Amazon founder Jeff Bezos to target a private citizen in this way is a deplorable escalation of our political culture wars. That it also carries with it a touch of anti-Semitic incitement only makes it worse. That this emanates from the newspaper that has on its banner the slogan “Democracy Dies in Darkness” isn’t merely ironic. It’s a reminder that those who bleat the loudest about defending democracy and shedding light on the news are sometimes the ones doing the most damage to the American republic and taking its discourse to a very dark place.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.
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