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Real victims in “Libs of TikTok” are the teachers & LGBTQ people harassed

Right-wing media melt down after Washington Post report on Chaya Raichik, person behind the influential anti-LGBTQ Libs of Tik Tok account

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Graphic by Andrea Austria for Media Matters

By Brennan Suen & Ari Drennen | WASHINGTON – The Washington Post confirmed that Chaya Raichik is behind formerly anonymous ‘Libs of TikTok.’ The influential anti-LGBTQ account has has been trademarked as a “news reporter service” by a Republican operative, although the Washington Post notes that “Raichik has claimed to run the account alone.”

The account regularly targets LGBTQ individuals and their allies for harassment from its more than 640,000 Twitter followers while serving as a veritable wire service for Fox News and the rest of the right-wing media to push anti-LGBTQ smears.

While the right has misleadingly decried the reporting on Raichik by Washington Post columnist Taylor Lorenz, who heavily cited Media Matters, as “doxxing” and harassment, her Libs of TikTok account has revealed the names and locations of teachers, LGBTQ people, and others on the left, and promoted a dangerous lie about “grooming” that has resulted in harassment, threats, and lost livelihoods for private individuals.

“Libs of TikTok is basically acting as a wire service for the broader right-wing media ecosystem,” said Ari Drennen, LGBTQ program director for Media Matters, the progressive media watchdog group. “It’s been shaping public policy in a real way, and affecting teachers’ ability to feel safe in their classrooms.”

The account has been promoted by podcast host Joe Rogan, it’s been featured in the New York Post, the Federalist, the Post Millennial and a slew of other right-wing news sites. Meghan McCain has retweeted it. The online influencer Glenn Greenwald has amplified it to his 1.8 million Twitter followers while calling himself the account’s “Godfather.” Last Thursday, the woman behind the account appeared anonymously on Tucker Carlson’s show to complain about being temporarily suspended for violating Twitter’s community guidelines. Fox News often creates news packages around the content that Libs of TikTok has surfaced.

Raichik is not alone in pushing this targeted smear campaign against teachers, LGBTQ people, and those who support them, including companies like Disney. These harmful narratives have been lifted up by others like Chris Rufo, the right-wing operative behind the notorious campaign against supposed “critical race theory” in public schools, Christina Pushaw, the press secretary to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis who repeatedly interacted with the account while pushing the “grooming” narrative to justify Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, and Fox News, which has used increasingly violent rhetoric to leverage parents’ fears for their children into a political strategy that puts LGBTQ people at risk.

Fox’s Tucker Carlson has twice called on viewers to beat up teachers for what he called “pushing sex values on your third grader” and committing “sexual abuse against my kindergartener.” The Daily Wire’s Candace Owens said that “pedophilia is around the corner” with the “intentional and overt confusion and sexualization of our children in the classroom.” Appearing on Infowars’ The Alex Jones Show, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) suggested that vigilante violence was an appropriate response to the existence of trans camp counselors. All of this has created a dangerous national environment for LGBTQ people at the same time Raichik’s account has recklessly targeted individuals on social media.

“Libs of TikTok” has explicitly targeted teachers and LGBTQ people for harassment

Libs of TikTok regularly targets individual teachers and their workplaces – releasing their personal information that includes school and individual names as well as social media accounts, and leading its audience to harass the schools on social media.s. 

On April 10, Raichik posted a Twitter thread that shared a trans TikTok creator’s video and tagged the school they work in. Libs of TikTok celebrated after that school was forced to block the account and some of its followers, restrict comments, and more, with Raichik writing, “They aren’t coping well with all the attention.” 

On April 11, she praised an Oklahoma middle school for firing a teacher “after complaints of grooming and this tiktok + others containing questionable content were brought to the principal’s attention.” A follow-up post included the teacher’s name and post on a local Facebook group “supporting our LGBTQA+ kids.” 

And on April 12, Raichik tagged another school district for featuring a “drag teacher” performance, calling it “sickening.” In a follow-up tweet, the account noted that the school had restricted comments after Libs of TikTok told its large following to “imagine if they focused on teaching math, science, and history instead of drag.”

An April 14 Media Matters review found that Libs of TikTok has misgendered at least 14 individuals in 15 of its tweets so far this year, receiving more than 113,000 total engagements for content in seeming violation of Twitter’s terms of service. Media Matters’ Sophie Lawton explained that the account has regularly targeted individuals:

The account also posts targeted attacks on transgender and gender-nonconforming social media users. This harassment includes claims that adults who teach children about LGBTQ identities are “abusive” and claims that being gender-nonconforming or an ally is a “mental illness,” at least one of which has been removed from Twitter for breaking terms of service. Libs of TikTok has also advocated for all openly LGBTQ teachers to be fired and called on its followers to contact schools that are allowing “boys in the girls bathrooms” and “boys and girls sharing bedrooms on field trips” to express their hostility towards pro-LGBTQ rules.

Raichik’s account was also part of a broader right-wing harassment campaign last July against two trans parents of a newborn, instructing its followers to call child protective services on them and directing them to one parent’s Instagram page. The couple faced widespread harassment online, and one of the parents had to make their social media profile private due to threats of violence.

LGBTQ people and teachers now face vicious, targeted harassment as “groomer” slander takes off

The real-world consequences of the lie that LGBTQ people are “grooming” children for sexual activity – a dangerous slander that has been championed by Libs of TikTok and its right-wing media allies – have already been extraordinarily troubling.

On April 1, NBC News reported on LGBTQ teachers – frequent targets of Libs of TikTok – in Florida who have quit the profession due to harassment and larger fears around state-enforced censorship and erasure of LGBTQ identities in schools. It cited one teacher who was targeted by parents for simply acknowledging his marriage:

Last month, a group of parents in Orlando, Florida, demanded “consequences” against sixth grade science teacher Robert Thollander. His crime? Thollander acknowledged his marriage at school.

“He married a man. This alone is not an issue. Sharing the details … with all his 6th grade students is the issue,” the parents wrote in a letter sent to their children’s school board, which was shared with NBC News. “It was not appropriate. Many of these students felt very uncomfortable with the conversations and shared this with their families.

And on April 19, NBC News reported on a spike in online harassment against LGBTQ people, particularly pedophile and “grooming” accusations:

The most prominent slurs center on accusations that LGBTQ people and their allies are pedophiles, using the word “grooming,” which the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children defines as when “someone builds a relationship, trust, and emotional connection with a child or young person so they can manipulate, exploit and abuse them.”

The term has been weaponized online, and it now appears almost constantly on many social media platforms. Data from the social media platform Reddit analyzed by Jeremy Blackburn, an assistant professor of computer science at Binghamton University in New York who studies online extremism, found about a 100 percent increase since the beginning of the year in discussion of “grooming” in conjunction with various LGBTQ slurs starting in early March and accelerating in mid-to-late March.

Media Matters has reported a similar trend on Facebook, where hundreds of posts from right-leaning pages use “grooming”-related language:

On March 4, DeSantis press secretary Christina Pushaw described the new “Don’t Say Gay” legislation as “an Anti-Grooming Bill” — pushing an old but persistent myth that LGBTQ people put children in danger. 

Right-leaning pages on Facebook, particularly those for right-wing media outlets and personalities, quickly took to Pushaw’s messaging. In fact, there are over 250 posts from right-leaning pages since March 1 that include “groomer” language or call the legislation the “Anti-Groomer Bill,” earning over 360,000 interactions.

This online campaign to smear LGBTQ people already appears to be inspiring harassment in the real world. On April 15, The Washington Post reported the viral story about how two dads, one of whom is “a substitute teacher for the Los Angeles Unified School District,” were harassed on an Amtrak train in California and called “pedophiles” as their children cried:

“All of a sudden, there was a man standing right next to me talking to my son,” [Robbie] Pierce said. “The very first thing he said is, ‘Marriage is between a man and a woman.’ ”

Pierce was stunned, he said, as the unidentified man proceeded to shout homophobic attacks, accusing the couple of stealing their children and calling them “pedophiles” and “rapists.” As his kids began to cry, Pierce said he grabbed them and moved them to another car while his husband, Neal Broverman, shouted the harasser away.

Trans people are at particularly high risk of harassment from these narratives. On April 11, NBC4 Washington reported on a trans woman who was harassed on the Metro in Washington, D.C., and accused of “grooming children for sexual abuse”:

Saoirse Gowan captured how a ride to meet friends turned into a nightmare in a video now seen more than a half-million times on Twitter. It has also made her a target of threats. 

Gowan, who is transgender, said the man accused her of grooming children for sexual abuse in an obscenity-filled tirade, which he appeared to be livestreaming. 

She noted that the same phrasing is currently used in bitter national debate over how U.S. public schools address gender identity.   

“I couldn’t get off the train even though I felt terrified for my life because this guy was yelling at me that I’m a child groomer, that I’m only on the train dressed as who I am because I want to hurt children,” Gowan said.

In Minneapolis, The Independent recently reported that a trans woman was shoved into the road and called a “groomer”:

“I’ve been transitioning for about eight or nine years now, and I have been assaulted and harassed by people on the street before. I have never been accused of sexually predatory behaviour,” says Aurora, a 34-year-old transgender woman studying to be a nurse in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She asked for her surname not to be used because she fears for her safety.

“That’s pretty devastating, because you worry when that’s happening that strangers are going to join in,” she says. “It feels like I am put into a position where I need to defend myself from allegations of such grossness, such evil behaviour, while also trying to defend a part of my identity that is innate and unchangeable.”

Aurora is one of three LGBT+ people who told The Independent that they had been harassed or attacked in public over the past two weeks by strangers who accused them, with no provocation or evidence, of “grooming” children or being a “groomer.”

The right’s phony concern over harassment exposes their hypocrisy

Right-wing media’s faux outrage over Lorenz revealing the person behind Libs of TikTok has spread rapidly, with many conservative figures dubiously accusing her of harassment for reporting on Raichik’s influential anti-LGBTQ account. But these defenses ignore that the entire point of the Libs of TikTok account is to target individual people on social media, creating an environment of hatred against LGBTQ people that puts them in danger – of violence, harassment, job loss, and loss of safety at work – and demands that they hide who they are in society if they want to live in peace.

As one Twitter user noted, when Lorenz’s “critics make this conversation about doxxing, they’re failing to apply the same standard to Raichik” for “creating targets in a violent culture war against LGBTQ people.”

By the right’s expansive interpretation of “doxxing” being used to criticize Lorenz’s report about an influential social media account, Raichik herself has essentially doxxed numerous social media users, teachers, and school, leading to an avalanche of harassment against them.

Oklahoma English teacher Tyler Wrynn told Lorenz that he saw himself “as the type of teacher to stand up for marginalized voices” when he posted a video telling LGBTQ youth rejected by their parents that he was “proud of them.” Last week, Libs of TikTok posted the video, where it was viewed hundreds of thousands of times.

Facing a barrage of public hate that included a GOP Senate candidate calling him a predator, Wrynn was let go from his position – a development which Raichik publicly celebrated.

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Ari Drennen is the LGBTQ program director for Media Matters, where she has worked since January 2022. She has a bachelors degree in political science and economics from Middlebury College. Previously she worked at the Center for American Progress and the League of Conservation Voters

Brennan Suen is the LGBTQ program director at Media Matters, where he has worked since July 2015. He has a bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University, and he formerly interned at the Human Rights Campaign and SKDKnickerbocker.

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The preceding article was previously published by Media Matters for America and is republished by permission.

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Busting anti-queer bias in text prediction

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Screenshot/YouTube Heartstopper text session (NetFlix)

By Lillian Goodwin | LOS ANGELES – Modern text prediction is far from perfect — take, for instance, when a search query suggests something completely different from your intention. But the trouble doesn’t end at inaccuracy. Text prediction can also be extremely exclusive or biased when it comes to predicting results related to marginalized communities.

A team of researchers from the USC Viterbi School of Engineering Information Sciences Institute and the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, led by Katy Felkner, a USC Viterbi Ph.D. in computer science student and National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship recipient, has developed a system to quantify and fix anti-queer bias in the artificial intelligence behind text prediction.

The project, presented by Felkner at the Queer in AI workshop at the North American Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics (NAACL) conference in July, looks at both detecting and reducing anti-queer bias in a large language model, which is used in everything from search bars to language translation systems.

The large language model, or LLM, is the “brain” behind the text prediction that pops up when we type something in a search bar—an artificial intelligence that “completes” sentences by predicting the most likely string of words that follows a given prompt.

However, LLMs must first be “trained” by being fed millions of examples of pre-written content so that they can learn what sentences typically look like. Like an energetic toddler, the LLM repeats what it hears, and what it hears can be heteronormative or even overtly discriminatory.

“Most LLMs are trained on huge amounts of data that’s crawled from the internet,” Felkner said. “They’re going to pick up every kind of social bias that you can imagine is out there on the web.”

FEW WORDS, BIG EFFECT

The project found that a popular LLM called BERT showed significant homophobic bias. This bias is measured through Felkner’s benchmark, which compares the likelihood that the LLM predicts heteronormative sentences versus sentences that include a queer relationship.

“A heteronormative output is something like ‘James held hands with Mary,’ versus ‘James held hands with Tom,’” said Felkner. “Both are valid sentences, but the issue is that, across a wide variety of contexts, the model prefers the heteronormative output.”

While the difference is just a few words, the effect is far from small.

Katy Felkner presents her work at NAACL

Predicted outputs that talk about queer people in stereotypical ways can enforce users’ biases, and the model’s lack of ‘experience’ with queer voices can result in it looking at queer language as obscene.

“A persistent issue for queer people is that a lot of times, the words that we use to describe ourselves, or slurs that have been reclaimed, are still considered obscene or overly sexual,” said Felkner, who is also the graduate representative for Queers in Engineering, Science and Technology (QuEST) chapter of Out in STEM at USC.

“If a model routinely flags these words, and these posts are then taken down from the platforms or forums they’re on, you’re silencing the queer community.”

COMMUNITY INPUT

To tackle this problem, Felkner gave BERT a tune-up by feeding it Tweets and news articles containing LGBT+ keywords. This content used to “train” BERT came from two separate databases of Felkner’s own creation, called QueerTwitter and QueerNews.

Although language processing requires extremely large amounts of data—the QueerTwitter database contained over 2.3 million Tweets—she took care to single out hashtags that were being used primarily by queer and trans people, such as #TransRightsareHumanRights.

As the model was exposed to different perspectives and communities, it became more familiar with queer language and issues. As a result, it was more likely to represent them in its predictions.

After being trained with the new, more inclusive data, the model showed significantly less bias. The tweets from QueerTwitter proved the most effective of the two databases, reducing the prevalence of heteronormative results to almost half of all predictions.

“I think QueerTwitter’s results being more effective than QueerNews speaks to the importance of direct community involvement, and that queer and trans voices — and the data from their communities — is going to be the most valuable in designing a technology that won’t harm them,” Felkner said. “We were excited about this finding because it’s empirical proof of that intuition people already hold: that these communities should have an input in how technology is designed.”

Going forward, the project will look to address bias that affects specific parts of the LGBT+ community, using more refined and targeted sets of data and more customized prompts for the model to work with — such as tackling harmful stereotypes around lesbians. Long term, Felkner hopes the project can be used to train other LLMs, help researchers test the fairness of their natural language processing, or even uncover completely new biases.

“We’re dealing with how to fight against the tide of biased data to get an understanding of what ‘unfair’ looks like and how to test for and correct it, which is a problem both in general and for subcultures that we don’t even know about,” said Jonathan May, USC Viterbi research associate professor of computer science, Felkner’s advisor and study co-author. “There’s a lot of great ways to extend the work that Katy is doing.”

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The preceding article was previously published by the University of Southern California‘s Viterbi School of Engineering and is republished by permission.

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Multiracial LGBTQ youth face heightened suicide risk

Nearly half of multiracial LGBTQ youth (48%) reported seriously considering suicide in the past year, compared to 45% of all LGBTQ youth

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Photo by Harrison J. Bahe/model: Cameron Sotelo

NEW YORK – A new report released today by The Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and mental health organization for LGBTQ young people, is the first of its kind to exclusively explore the mental health and well-being of multiracial LGBTQ youth, highlighting the unique mental health experiences among youth of different racial backgrounds.

Key findings include:

  • Nearly half of multiracial LGBTQ youth (48%) reported seriously considering suicide in the past year, compared to 45% of all LGBTQ youth
  • Nearly one in five multiracial LGBTQ youth (17%) attempted suicide in the past year, compared to 14% of all LGBTQ youth
  • Multiracial transgender and nonbinary youth reported higher rates of suicide risk, with 55% seriously considering suicide and 22% attempting suicide in the past year
  • Multiracial LGBTQ youth who are exclusively youth of color reported higher rates of both seriously considering (52%) and attempting suicide (21%) in the past year compared to multiracial LGBTQ youth who are White and another race/ethnicity

“These findings shine a light on the unique mental health challenges and suicide risk of young people living with the distinctive identities of being multiracial and LGBTQ. The research world has largely overlooked this group of young people and how they might experience various risk and protective factors,” said Myeshia Price, Director of Research Science at The Trevor Project. “These novel findings overwhelmingly point to an urgent need to invest in mental health services and prevention programs that specifically affirm the identities of multiracial LGBTQ youth and are attuned to the nuances of how they navigate and experience the world.”

Multiracial LGBTQ youth reported higher rates of negative risk factors — such as experiences of homelessness, food insecurity, and discrimination and victimization based on their race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender identity — than their peers. In particular, multiracial LGBTQ youth who are exclusively youth of color reported higher rates of race/ethnicity-based discrimination compared to multiracial LGBTQ youth who are White and another race/ethnicity (55% vs. 37%). These findings highlight the potential role that racism contributes to poor mental health among young people of color. 

These data also illustrate protective factors unique to multiracial LGBTQ youth, which may play an important role in uplifting their wellbeing and preventing suicide. Multiracial LGBTQ youth who reported high levels of social support from family and high levels of support from friends had significantly lower odds of attempting suicide in the past year than youth who did not have that support (55% and 39%).

This report was created using data from a national sample of nearly 4,739 multiracial LGBTQ youth ages 13–24 who participated in The Trevor Project’s 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health. The full report can be found below or here.

If you or someone you know needs help or support, The Trevor Project’s trained crisis counselors are available 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386, via chat at TheTrevorProject.org/Get-Help, or by texting START to 678678. 

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Research/Study

Twitter & Facebook allowing hate labels “pedophile/groomer” on platforms

“Online hate & lies reinforce offline violence. The normalization of anti-LGBTQ+ narratives in digital spaces puts LGBTQ+ people in danger” 

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Photo by Christopher Kane

WASHINGTON – According to a report released Wednesday by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and The Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), Twitter and Facebook are permitting the spread of content linking LGBTQ+ people to pedophiles or “groomers.”

The authors of “Digital Hate: Social Media’s Role in Amplifying Dangerous Lies about LGBTQ+ People” found a dramatic uptick this year in posts mentioning “grooming,” which refers to the practice of pursuing relationships with children for the purpose of sexually abusing or exploiting them. 

Use of this term and related terms as a slander against LGBTQ+ people is an explicit violation of Twitter’s rules governing hate speech, the company said. And yet, even as the platform saw a 406% increase in such tweets beginning in March, it failed to take action in 99% of reported cases, the study shows. 

Forty-eight million people viewed these tweets, the study estimates, with the majority coming from a small group of right-wing extremists, including lawmakers like Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (GA). 

Of the most-viewed “grooming” tweets, 66% of impressions were driven by just ten users, the report finds. 

For its part, Meta prohibits anti-LGBTQ+ content on Facebook and Instagram but removed only one paid advertisement mentioning the “grooming” narrative. 

The findings echo CCDH’s report last year on misinformation concerning the covid pandemic (including vaccines), the online spread of which was linked to just a dozen people with large followings on social media platforms. 

“Facebook, Google and Twitter have put policies into place to prevent the spread of vaccine misinformation; yet to date, all have failed to satisfactorily enforce those policies,” CCDH’s CEO Imran Ahmed wrote in the report. 

Just as with covid, the companies’ failure to intervene and take down misinformation and hate speech can have dire consequences. “Online hate and lies reflect and reinforce offline violence and hate,” Ahmed said in a statement about the new report. “The normalization of anti-LGBTQ+ narratives in digital spaces puts LGBTQ+ people in danger.” 

An old, dangerous slander is resuscitated 

In the 1970s, anti-LGBTQ+ crusader Anita Bryant campaigned against inclusive non-discrimination measures by spreading the lie that gay men and lesbians sought to recruit children for sexual abuse. 

Passage, in March of this year, of Florida’s Parental Rights in Education bill – deemed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by critics – appears to have been a turning point that led to the resuscitation of the slanderous rhetoric linking LGBTQ+ people to pedophiles or “groomers.” 

The label was weaponized by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s spokesperson, Christina Pushaw, to push back against critics of the legislation, which prohibits public school teachers from discussing sexual orientation or gender identity with students in certain grade levels. 

LGBTQ+ advocates say non-cisgender and non-heterosexual youth will be harmed as the bill effectively erases their identities, while potentially criminalizing something as innocuous as a teacher’s mention of their same-sex spouse. 

“The bill that liberals inaccurately call “Don’t Say Gay” would be more accurately described as an Anti-Grooming Bill,” Pushaw wrote on Twitter. 

She added, “If you’re against the Anti-Grooming Bill, you are probably a groomer or at least you don’t denounce the grooming of 4-8 year old children. Silence is complicity. This is how it works, Democrats, and I didn’t make the rules.” 

According to the CCDH and HRC’s report, the social media platforms saw a corresponding spike in content targeting LGBTQ+ people as pedophiles and child abusers after Gov. DeSantis signed the Parental Rights in Education bill into law.

The narrative has occasionally been used to attack non-LGBTQ+ people, as Michigan State Sen. Mallory McMorrow experienced at the hands of her Republican colleague Sen. Lana Theis. 

McMorrow told The Los Angeles Blade there is a moral as well as a political obligation to stand up to conservative extremists who baselessly accuse LGBTQ+ people, or their political opponents, of being pedophiles or enablers of child sexual abuse. 

Read the full report here: [LINK]

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