Libs of TikTok is the latest right-wing star to court paid subscribers on Substack

  • The Twitter account Libs of TikTok was featured in a Washington Post article this week.

  • The account then announced it would offer paid subscriptions on Substack.

  • It's the latest controversial figure to join the platform, which has lax moderation policies.

Libs of TikTok, the influential Twitter account profiled this week in The Washington Post, announced on Tuesday that it would soon publish through the newsletter platform Substack.

As detailed in the Post's report, written by columnist Taylor Lorenz, the account has amassed a sizable following on Twitter for reposting TikTok videos and other social-media posts, mostly from LGBTQ+ creators, in a way that evokes outrage among conservatives.

The account has garnered the attention of high-profile right-wing publications and influencers, such as Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who have amplified its videos and cemented its importance in current conservative discourse, including the wave of anti-LGBTQ+ messaging and legislation across the US.

Libs of TikTok's planned pivot to Substack is the latest instance of a controversial voice seeking shelter on the platform, which has so far opted for less moderation than other social platforms.

"The very point that Libs of TikTok is seeking to move to Substack is an indictment of Substack itself," Imran Ahmed, the founder and CEO of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, told Insider.

Libs Of TikTok became the center of an online culture war

Libs of TikTok is the product of Chaya Raichik, once a real estate agent from Brooklyn who under a different username posted about attending the January 6, 2021, pro-Trump riot at the US Capitol, the Post reported.

Raichik established Libs of TikTok in April 2021, according to the Post, and it permeated mainstream media just a few months later after Joe Rogan mentioned it on his immensely popular podcast in August.

The account has taken a strong stance against the LGBTQ+ community, even calling for out LGBTQ+ educators to be fired "on the spot." In November last year, it called the Trevor Project, a nonprofit that works to prevent suicide among LGBTQ+ youth, a "grooming organization."

At least one person whose video was featured on Libs Of TikTok received death threats and other attacks following the account posting their video, according to the Post.

Libs of TikTok did not return Insider's request for comment Friday.

The Washington Post report led to a wave of right-wing outrage, with conservative pundits decrying it for revealing the identity of the woman running the account, arguing the report had unfairly "doxxed" the creator behind the account. These allegations largely ignored the account's popularity and influence — Libs of TikTok already had more than 600,000 followers at the time the Post published its report, and Raichik had anonymously appeared on Fox News and in other right-wing news outlets to talk about the account.

The same day as the Post's report on Tuesday, Libs Of TikTok announced a forthcoming Substack with paid subscriptions as the account rapidly gained new Twitter followers.

"Lots of people have been asking how they can support me," the account tweeted after the article was published. "I started a substack & will be posting some exclusive content for subscribers there. It's the best way to lend support and stay connected if I get banned from social media."

As the Post noted in its report this week, the account has already been temporarily suspended from Twitter on two occasions for violating Twitter rules, and its account on TikTok was permanently banned for violating the company's community guidelines.

Substack's growing misinformation problem

Libs Of TikTok is one of several accounts that have moved to Substack after gaining a large following by publishing content that either violates or comes close to violating other platforms' content moderation policies. Anti-hate groups and writers have criticized Substack, which has comparatively lax policies on what is allowed on the platform, for profiting from harmful content.

According to the Center for Countering Digital Hate, Substack generated at least $2.5 million in a single year from five anti-vaccine movement influencers, including Alex Bernson, who was banned from Twitter for spreading COVID-19 misinformation. According to the report, 90% of the revenue goes to the newsletter authors, while 10% goes to Substack.

Some of the top posts in the politics category on Substack included misinformation related to COVID-19 vaccines, according to the Center for Countering Digital Hate, including one author who claimed "the vaccines kill more far more people than they might save from COVID."

Substack has become the platform of choice for "hate actors," said Center for Countering Digital Hate CEO Ahmed, because the company and its leaders fail to enforce the rules and guidelines that it sets to keep the platform safe.

Those rules, outlined in a November 21, 2021, post on its website, prohibit hateful content, which it outlies as "credible threats of physical harm" based on "race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, disability or medical condition."

"You can't have your cake and eat it too," Ahmed said. "You can't say you're going to do the right thing and then do exactly the opposite and still expect people to put praise on you for being a moral and good organization," he added.

Substack defended its content moderation policies in a statement to Insider.

"We do not believe in censoring writers on the platform as long as they do not violate our terms, including content that might be offensive or wrong, or where we personally disagree with the views represented," a spokesperson for Substack said.

Company leaders in the past have also doubled down on its seemingly unfettered commitment to allow "free speech," the principle that seems to drive the controversial voices to its platform.

"We believe that when you use censorship to silence certain voices or push them to another place, you don't make the misinformation problem disappear but you do make the mistrust problem worse," wrote Substack CEO Chris Best, and the platforms other cofounders Hamish McKenzie and Jairaj Sethi in a joint blog post in January.

Several writers who joined Substack, including ones who scored lucrative deals luring them there, have ultimately opted to leave, citing its willingness to allow certain types of content they viewed as harmful.

The literary scholar Grace Lavery left the platform in January, also leaving behind a six-figure deal with the company, writing she no longer had "any faith that the executive team at Substack" would enforce its own terms of use related to the harassment of trans people.

In June 2021, author Jude Doyle left the platform for the Substack rival Ghost, writing in a post they felt "Substack is tolerating and funding extreme trans-eliminationist rhetoric."

And the poet Yanyi announced he was leaving Substack last year on Trans Visibility Day, writing that he decided to leave the platform after he decided "Substack has enabled and protected a writer like Graham Linehan to stay on their platform behind a claim of preserving journalistic ethics."

Linehan, a British writer, in 2020 was permanently suspended by Twitter for repeated violations of policy against hateful conduct, The Guardian reported.

So far, the Libs of TikTok Substack has no content except for an "about" section featuring short testimonials in "praise" of the account from figures that include Rogan, conservative podcaster Matt Walsh, and the right-wing radio host Dan Bongino.

An annual subscription costs users $50, and a monthly one costs $5. For a $500 fee, fans can become "founding members," for which Libs of TikTok promises the additional perk of "eternal gratitude."

It's not clear what type of content Libs of TikTok will publish through the newsletter, and meanwhile, the account is still active on Twitter.

"I will never be silenced!" Libs of TikTok tweeted Tuesday, sending the message to its hundreds of thousands of followers.

This story was updated with new information on April 23, 2022, to clarify the revenue breakdown from anti-vaccine newsletters on Substack.

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