(June 9, 2022 / JNS) 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 express toxic views, but claim to be aggrieved victims when criticized or simply quoted by their ideological opponents.
Consider, for example, the current controversy over Libs of TikTok, a very popular Twitter account run by Chaya Raichik. The account aggregates videos, mostly of unhinged rants, posted by radical LGBT activists. In April, Washington Post columnist Taylor Lorenz wrote an “exposé” of Raichik’s account, accusing Libs of TikTok of “doxxing” the creators of aggregated videos. Libs of Tik Tok, she charged, exposes LGBT educators and activists to harassment, hostility and even physical harm. Ironically, Lorenz went so far as to “doxx” Raichik herself, and then claimed, in a tearful interview, that the same had been done to her.
Lorenz’s screed leapt to the conclusion that Raichik was involved in an assault on the personal lives of LGBT TikTok creators. It claimed that the purpose of Libs of Tik Tok was to demean gay educators and provide fuel to right-wing critics alarmed by what they consider the sexualization and grooming of school children by woke educators. “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.” She added, “Videos shared from the account quickly find their way to the most influential names in right-wing media.” Lorenz appeared to believe that Libs of TikTok exists only to provide fodder for right-wing critics of progressive trends in education and culture.
“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.” She added, “The account has emerged as a powerful force on the internet, 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 consider was that outrage on the right might be justified given TikTok videos such as an April 11 post by an Oklahoma middle school teacher, who told his students, “If your parents don’t accept you for who you are, f*** them. I’m your parents now.”
More importantly, Lorenz ignored the most significant fact: each TikTok user who posted objectionable content did so voluntarily on a very public social media platform. They did so for the specific purpose of reaching the widest possible audience. This is the crucial point. None of the individuals who posted their videos had what the law calls an “expectation of privacy.” Their private information were not hacked and exposed to the public against their will or without their knowledge. Raichik simply scours TikTok for public videos that are problematic, outrageous, inappropriate or immoral and reposts them. If anyone is responsible for the wide exposure some of these videos enjoy, it is the users who posted them in the first place.
Libs of TikTok is not the only vehicle through which radical progressives have been “outed” by their own public statements.
Radical activists involved in the debate over Israel and the Palestinians have been the subjects of dossiers that include videos, tweets, writings and transcripts of speeches—all public information—that expose these activists’ extremism, hatred of Israel and sometimes anti-Semitism. These so-called “blacklists” are databases like Canary Mission, Discover the Networks, Campus Watch, the AMCHA Initiative and others, all of which seek to provide students, faculty and the general public with information on the ideology, scholarship, speeches and writings of radical professors and students.
These radicals and their organizations have very public records of pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel activism. It is perfectly legitimate to catalogue their words and behavior in order to expose things like the politicization of scholarship or to provide students with the information necessary to avoid courses taught by abusive professors with a predetermined and self-evident bias against Israel.
Even though all the information included in these databases is publicly available—presumably by the consent of the activists themselves—they have been denounced as insidious, reactionary and dangerous to the reputations of the catalogued individuals. When radical activists find themselves profiled by, for example, Canary Mission, they regularly declare themselves offended that their views have been exposed and recorded, despite the fact that they obviously felt comfortable with publicly airing those views in the first place.
A particularly egregious case of this kind of crybully outrage involved Yasmeen Mashayekh, a student at the University of Southern California’s Viterbi School of Engineering. Mashayekh is not shy about her hateful views. Due to her virulent anti-Israel and anti-Jewish statements, a group of some 60 USC faculty has accused Mashayekh of “ongoing open expressions of anti-Semitism and Zionophobia.”
What were some of these expressions? As cataloged by Canary Mission, on May 9, 2021, Ms. Mashayekh—who is, perhaps not coincidentally, a diversity, equity and inclusion senator in USC’s graduate student government—tweeted, “I want to kill every motherf***ing zionist.” When Canary Mission responded by saying this murderous tweet was “horrifying,” Mashayekh tweeted back, “Oh no how horrifying that I want to kill my colonizer!!”
This was hardly the last homicidal statement made by Mashayekh. In June 2021, she tweeted, “Death to Israel and its b***h the U.S.” She also retweeted a tweet that read, “May i****l [Israel] burn to the ground.” In case there was any doubt about her feelings toward 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***ing love hamas now stfu [shut the f*** up].”
Mashayekh’s puerile and caustic comments were understandably condemned, but to her supporters—who likely shared her murderous attitude toward Israel—she was a victim, not a perpetrator of obvious hate speech. Mashayekh, according to her defenders, was actually “an oppressed student who is being unfairly discriminated against for speaking on her people’s plight.” They further claimed, without evidence, that Canary Mission is “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.”
But Canary Mission—like other organizations and Libs of TikTok—did not furtively investigate the private lives of activists or campus radicals. They did not hack email accounts, take testimony from anonymous sources or examine association memberships, reading habits or private writings. The individuals profiled wanted their statements, however ugly, to be public, viral and influential. That they find themselves condemned by these statements is no one’s fault but their own.
The deepest feelings, poet Marianne Moore once observed, emerge “not in silence, but restraint.” There’s a lesson there for individuals who do not wish to see themselves on Libs of TikTok or Canary Mission’s database.
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.
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