Day 6·Q&A

Libs of TikTok account has resurrected decades-long LGBTQ conspiracies, says writer

The Libs of TikTok social media account, which often targets LGBTQ groups and individuals, has been cited on FoxNews, gotten teachers fired and even influenced political policy. Ari Drennen of Media Matters for America explains the account's real-life and harmful consequences.

They're not just sharing content, but advocating an 'incredibly anti-LGBTQ' view: Ari Drennen

The download page for the TikTok app is displayed on an Apple iPhone.
Drennen says Libs of TikTok scours the TikTok social media platform for content posted by people, usually LGBTQ community members and teachers, and shares it to its followers on Twitter, often with additional anti-LGBTQ commentary. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Ari Drennen, the LGBTQ program director of Media Matters for America, said she's received more than 500 angry and hateful comments about her appearance and sexuality, for her role in exposing the Libs of TikTok social media account. 

But she's not ready to give in to intimidation.

"This is such an important thing to highlight for this reason," she told Day 6 guest host Saroja Coelho.

"I have lived a life where I've been scared to be myself, and where I've been more concerned about what other people think, but … we're just going to keep going."

Earlier this week, Drennen was quoted in an article by Washington Post reporter Taylor Lorenz about the social media account, which has spread anti-LGBTQ sentiment and false rumours.

The story revealed that Brooklyn-based Chaya Raichik was behind the account, which boasts nearly a million followers on Twitter — including podcaster Joe Rogan.

It's reaching just a really, really vast audience in a way that's being weaponized in a way that we've never seen before.-Ari Drennen

Drennen, who's also been tracking Libs of TikTok for the American non-profit media watchdog site Media Matters for America, spoke to Coelho about the account's influence on political and public policy and the real-life harm it causes the people targeted by it.

Here's a part of their conversation.

Can you explain how Libs of TikTok works and what it does?

What Libs of TikTok does more broadly is it scans TikTok for content posted by ... generally, people who are LGBTQ and/or are teachers, and it shares them with its nearly one million users on Twitter, usually adding some kind of commentary.

They're not just sharing content, they're advocating a point of view, and it's a point of view that is incredibly anti-LGBTQ.

Ari Drennen, the LGBTQ program director of Media Matters, says the Libs of TikTok account has 'single-handedly resurrected the slander that's gone back decades that LGBTQ people are somehow a threat to children.' (Ari Drennen)

For one example, Libs of TikTok has pushed this false, really ridiculous conspiracy theory that schools were installing litter boxes for students who identify as cats. This is something that they've pushed in multiple segments based on some comments from parents at a Board of Education meeting, which they presented as factual. 

They also accused the Trevor Project, which is the leading LGBTQ youth suicide prevention organization in the United States, of being a grooming organization.

But people who are voicing their support for the account this week are saying all the account does is post unedited videos that already exist on TikTok. So what do you see as the problem with what she's doing?

I think it's important to contextualize this. Libs of TikTok in March was the number one account that was promoting anti-LGBTQ content, and they have single-handedly resurrected the slander that's gone back decades that LGBTQ people are somehow a threat to children. 

As an example, there was a teacher who posted an emotional video where he said that his kids asked him if he was gay, and he told them that he was. In response to that, the account said that this teacher should be fired. 

What happened to that teacher?

I'm not sure what happened to that teacher, but there are other teachers who have been featured on the account who have later been fired or who the account has celebrated them being fired. 

There was one teacher in Oklahoma who said that he would support LGBTQ kids whose parents were rejecting them, which is an unfortunately common and difficult occurrence for LGBTQ youth. He was later fired after his video was featured on Libs of TikTok.

You were just referencing that a word that comes up frequently in response to the videos that she's posting is the word grooming. But what is behind that? What's the intent there?

I'm not sure what exactly her intent is, but I can certainly talk about the impact of the word she's using, which is that every LGBTQ person I know is now facing an onslaught of online hate, of people baselessly accusing them of grooming children for sex. 

It's shaping public policy in a very real way. The press secretary of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has credited the account for inspiring her to label opponents of the "Don't Say Gay" bill as pedophiles.

The content produced by this account has been picked up frequently by Fox News and other members of the right-wing media. It's been shared on Joe Rogan['s podcast], who frequently talks about how much he loves this account.

It's reaching just a really, really vast audience in a way that's being weaponized in a way that we've never seen before. These kinds of narratives in more recent years have been kind of more a niche thing that it's confined to darker corners of the internet. So seeing it come into the mainstream like this is very new. 

There have been numerous instances very recently of LGBTQ folks being attacked in public and being accused of being pedophiles or being groomers or somehow being a threat to children. And I think that you can trace this all back to the online discourse that this account has created.

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So you're taking it very seriously.

We take all cyberbullying and threats of harassment against the LGBTQ community very seriously. 

I think a lot of us are very familiar with a world where LGBTQ people were supposed to hide who we are and I don't want us to go back to this world, and we're working really hard to try to prevent that.

Ari Drennen, the LGBTQ program director of Media Matters, said the Libs of TikTok account is advocating 'incredibly anti-LGBTQ' views. (CBC)

What are you seeing as the solution here, Ari?

I think that we really need to turn down the temperature on this kind of discourse. I think that baselessly accusing people of being groomers and pedophiles is going to lead to people getting hurt in the real world. 

A lot of this rhetoric really closely mirrors the language that we saw before the Pizzagate incident in the United States, for example. It would be really, really terrifying for something similar to happen because of these accusations that are being thrown around without evidence.

Produced by Laurie Allan. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

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