Taylor Swift parody fan Twitter account @LegitTayUpdates often posts fun facts and jokes about the pop singer that receive likes and RTs in the hundreds and low thousands. But the account's new most popular tweet isn't a jab at the forthcoming Cats movie or praise for Taylor's filled-in eyebrows — it's a story about its creator, who says she recently took a hiatus from posting because she claims she was serving time in an Israeli military prison, detained for refusing to join the Israel Defense Forces.
Nineteen-year-old "N." (we're using her first initial to protect her identity) is the person behind @LegitTayUpdates. She says she lives in south Israel and started the account in December 2017. On February 1, 2019, she tweeted from the account, "So I think most of you know (?) but I'm going to prison tomorrow for refusing to enlist to the military, which I know sounds kinda funny, but it also means I'll be gone for a while (not sure how long)." Two months later, on April 2, she posted again, "As most of you know, I haven't been very active in the past couple of months because I was in prison :/ I'm back now though :) more Taylor Swift updates coming soon!" Teen Vogue could not independently verify her story.
As of now, that tweet has been shared around the Internet, racking up more than 50,000 likes. "I can't believe my most notorious Taylor Swift Update™ is not even about Taylor but about me being released from prison," she tweeted on April 2.
N. says she spent about two months in a military prison, which she says was a consequence of her not enlisting in the IDF. Israel's Defense Service Law requires citizens and permanent residents of Israel to start registration with the Israel Defense Forces authorities at age 16 and a half, according to the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs website. Upon reaching 18, men are required to serve for almost three years, while women serve two years according to the BBC. There are some exemptions allowed for citizens traveling abroad (who can get a deferment), for people with mental or physical health reasons for refusal, and for certain religions and nationalities (Palestinians in Israel, for example, are not required to enlist, an op-ed contributor to the New York Times notes).
During the time she says she was in prison, however, N. was not content to let @LegitTayUpdates lay dormant. On February 25, she posted what she said was a handwritten message from herself, posted by a friend who had allegedly visited her in prison, complete with the chat bubble emoji she puts before all her tweets. The note reads, "I'm still in prison lmao but I asked a friend to post this: can y'all stop making comments on Taylor's body...she'll let us know when/if she's pregnant. Calm down."
In recent years, several high-profile stories have been published about Israeli citizens who do not enlist as a form of protest against the IDF, Israeli prime pinister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the country's conflict with Palestinians. Since N. has returned to Twitter, she has continued her protest by using @LegitTayUpdates to advocate for the Free Palestine movement, including urging her followers to donate to the Palestine Children's Relief Fund.
In an interview with Teen Vogue, N. talked about why she made the decision not to enlist, her purported time in prison, and why she's a fan of Taylor Swift's growing political activism.
Teen Vogue: So how did you actually refuse military service?
N.: I had to go to an official IDF enlisting place, declare that I refuse to enlist, be put on trial, receive official charges, and only then go to prison. When my recruitment process started, I was 16, and I went along with the tests required, since that's just what you do. Since then, I've spoken to many Palestinians and informed myself, which is why I decided to do the time. Although you can be arrested for not responding to correspondence, I've actually gotten several warnings that I'll be arrested if I don't show up to certain tests and evaluations. I'm one of dozens — if not hundreds — of Israeli teens who refuse to join the IDF. We get called lazy and anti-patriotic or anti-Semitic, but that's just part of the deal in a place like this.
TV: Why was it important for you to refuse to join? Were you aware it would lead to prison time?
N.: Anyone who refuses to join the military for any reason knows they'll probably end up in military prison. I was well aware of this when I made my choice. For years in Israel, everyone around me told it was "us vs. them" — them being Palestinians — and I believed it because I trusted the people in my community. But as I grew older and saw more videos and articles about the things my government is doing in Palestine, I couldn't do nothing. I'm very privileged in the sense that I could go to prison without any further consequences. Most soldiers who are also pro-Palestine simply don't have the choices I did (whether it be for financial reasons, family reasons, or the knowledge that military service is just something everyone does).
TV: How long were you imprisoned for? What was the situation there like?
N.: I was imprisoned for about two months. Military prison is very strict and follows many military laws (like rankings and military hierarchy). We'd wake up at about 5 a.m. and get counted multiple times throughout the day. Sometimes prisoners would go and work for the military (mending fences, making food, stuff like that), but most of the time we were just very bored. At first I was scared, but my main emotion during that time was certainly boredom. What I'm really worried about are the implications of my prison time. I'll have a hard time finding work in Israel because I didn't enlist, and my decision did put a strain on my relationships with family and friends, particularly those in the IDF.
TV: That note you wrote that your friend shared on @LegitTayUpdates was so funny, with your hand-drawn speech bubble. Why did you want to post from prison?
N.: I was bored! When you're in prison and you're bored out of your mind 12 hours a day, you find things to do. My friend would update me about what's going on in the Taylor Swift fandom, and I'd pass her notes I've written throughout the week. The note about not assuming things about Taylor's body was a spur-of-the-moment thing, which doesn't happen much. I'm not sure I could've done it if I hadn't accidentally snuck a pen into the visiting area, honestly.
TV: What made you first decide to start the parody account?
N.: I'm a huge Taylor fan! The way she writes really relates to me, and she's so witty and funny. I joined Twitter for the sole purpose of talking about songs of hers that I liked. The parody account started out as a joke, mostly. I had two accounts at the time, and I was bored, so I changed my profile picture and name and posted a fake update. I think it was something gay, since that's very much my sense of humor. After that tweet did really well and people thought it was funny, I kept at it. I just like making people laugh. And coming up with updates makes me have to stretch my creative muscles. Sometimes they're not well received, which is fine (I do mess up sometimes; I'm a big enough person to admit that), but often they're just little jokes or harmless pranks. I've tried to make sure it's not malicious or makes people feel stupid, but I sometimes miss the mark. But if I have this platform already, I'd apologize for times I posted something that wasn't OK. I'm still learning!
TV: What are some of the things you find most ridiculous or entertaining about stan culture on Twitter?
N.: The best part of stan Twitter is for sure the chill people. Stans who are very intense scare me, and that goes for both edgy ones and super sensitive ones. I feel more comfortable when I'm surrounded by sarcastic people who also feel like they don't quite fit in IRL. I think the most ridiculous part of stan Twitter is definitely the constant comparisons. I don't see the need to compare Taylor to Adele and Beyoncé, because they're completely different artists who paved their way differently and faced different hardships. Comparing them does nothing but drag someone else down. I used to always compare Taylor to other artists and talk badly about others, but I worked on it, and I think I'm doing it much better now.
TV: One of my favorite tweet sets you've done is her and T-Pain's "Thug Story" behind the scenes — if you had to argue that "Thug Story" is her best work, what would you say?
N.: I've prepared for this moment my whole life, since "Thug Story" is most definitely her best work, hands down. "Thug Story" is satirical genius. Not even "Blank Space" or "Ready for It?" could come close to what "Thug Story" has achieved. The writing and rhymes are absolutely brilliant (who rhymes "floor" with "hardcore"? Legends only), and the comedic twists in it make you crack a smile. Taylor makes fun of herself in the track by mocking her good-girl image while still remaining true to herself. Plus, choosing to feature T-Pain just so they could make the joke "T-Swift and T-Pain rappin' on the same track" was an amazing creative decision.
TV: What do you think about Taylor's outspoken political moments from the past year?
N.: I've never been more proud to be a Taylor fan than when she posted about her political views. I don't expect celebrities to be politically vocal, but now I realize I probably should. Politics represent the world around us, and ignoring it will do nothing good. I hope Taylor keeps having the courage to speak out about things she believes in, because her platform and outreach is huge. I believe when you get an opportunity to educate, you have to go for it.
TV: Was there a Taylor song you had stuck in your head while you were in prison?
N.: Different songs on different days, certainly. On particularly good days I'd hum "New Romantics" in the shower; on difficult days I played "Change" in my head. "Dear John" and "Treacherous" also got stuck in my head pretty often. My favorite Taylor song, other than "Thug Story," is "I Know Places," which really fits the environment of prison but also talks a lot about running, which I obviously couldn't do.
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Want more from Teen Vogue? Check this out: The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: What You Need to Know