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There’s a proper term for what happened to the ‘Libs of TikTok’ creator. It’s not ‘doxxing.’

The correct word is "accountability." And someone targeting others in a hateful way while cowering behind a screen shouldn't be allowed to avoid it.
Image: TikTok
An attendee visits the TikTok booth at the Hangzhou Smart Expo in east China's Zhejiang province on Oct. 18, 2019.Costfoto / Barcroft Media via Getty Images file

On Tuesday, Washington Post internet culture reporter Taylor Lorenz came under fire for revealing the identity of a woman who has been cowering behind her computer screen to share anti-LGBTQ content anonymously. The woman, Chaya Raichik, is, according to The Post, responsible for Libs of TikTok. It’s an influential account that has more than 600,000 Twitter followers (according to The Post’s reporting, it was suspended on TikTok for violating community guidelines) and has been amplified by public figures like Joe Rogan, Tucker Carlson, Glenn Greenwald and Meghan McCain, as well as others on the far right.

The account has called for teachers who come out to their students to be “fired on the spot,” called people who don’t conform to traditional gender identities mentally ill and accused people who teach children about LGBTQ identities of abuse. It has been suspended by Twitter twice for engaging in targeted harassment. 

Doxxing can be dangerous — or even deadly. There are many people who should be able to share information anonymously online.

There are many reasons it’s inappropriate to publicly expose a person’s private information — a practice known in internet parlance as “doxxing.” But this isn’t one of them.

Let me be clear: Doxxing can be dangerous — or even deadly. There are many people who should be able to share information anonymously online. For example, to document their experiences as transgender people if they fear discrimination or even violence for openly sharing their identities. Exposing such people can put their safety in danger. And it’s never acceptable to share people’s private contact information online, like their phone numbers or email addresses, since this could be used to harass them in “real” life.

But there’s no justifiable reason to protect the identity of someone like Raichik on social media so she can spread this kind of intolerance with impunity. The public has a significant interest in knowing who is behind accounts that have major influence on public discourse about important issues, like Libs of TikTok. For example, we now know that the Russian government has tried to use social media to stoke racial tensions and promote domestic discord in the U.S. to weaken our country.

So it’s important for us all to know the interests behind these kinds of accounts — especially when they shape public opinion and even legislation. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ press secretary, Christina Pushaw, who has justified the state’s shameful legislation that outlaws discussions of sexual identity in kindergarten through third grade (which critics have called the “Don’t Say Gay” bill) has praised Libs of TikTok many times and said it “opened her eyes.”  

Another reason the identities of people behind accounts like Libs of TikTok shouldn’t be protected is that research shows that people are more willing to behave badly on social media when they perceive it to be an anonymous space. The phenomenon is known as the “online disinhibition effect.” Exposing people who post hateful content like this woman could help change that and make our online discourse more civil and respectful. 

What’s more, as Lorenz pointed out in The Post, “the popularity of Libs of TikTok comes at a time when far-right communities across the Internet have begun doxing school officials and calling for their execution. Parents of LGBTQ+ youth have been driven out of their towns. Local school board members have reported death threats.” The people in need of protection here are those who are being targeted with hate simply because of their identities — not the people who are hurling the abuse, like Raichik. 

Similarly, Lorenz should be praised, not pilloried, for her strong investigative reporting. Some are calling Lorenz a hypocrite or accusing her of playing the victim because she has been outspoken in the past about how being a victim of harassment has affected her severely and has even said it has given her post-traumatic stress disorder. This argument would hold water if Lorenz had harassed Raichik or someone else. But she hasn’t. The only thing Lorenz is guilty of here is doing her job — and doing it well, at that. One of the most important functions of journalism is to hold the powerful to account and expose bad behavior like Raichik’s. 

Lorenz’s story is no different from any other political exposé that holds the people shaping public policy up to public scrutiny. 

By exposing Raichik’s identity, Lorenz sent a powerful message that our domestic politics shouldn’t be shaped by shady figures who hide behind their computer screens to shirk responsibility for their actions. Hopefully, by doing so, she put other potential trolls on notice. The proper term for what happened to Raichik long predates the internet. It’s called “accountability.”