Taylor Lorenz, the country's foremost public advocate for TikTok, continued her advocacy work on Wednesday by attacking her journalist colleagues at the Washington Post for reporting fake news about the Chinese-owned spyware app for teens.
Lorenz, who joined the Post earlier this year in an effort to cultivate her personal "brand," co-authored an extensive story that purports to reflect negatively on Meta (the company formerly known as Facebook), which happens to be one of TikTok's biggest competitors. The story implies that Meta, an American company, did something wrong or unusual by hiring Targeted Victory, a public relations firm, to undermine its Chinese-owned rival by promoting negative stories about TikTok in local media markets, among other tactics. What Lorenz describes as a "bare-knuckle" scheme appears to be little more than a standard PR campaign.
For example, the PR firm "worked to amplify negative TikTok coverage" in part by keeping track of what Lorenz refers to as "dubious local news stories citing TikTok as the origin of dangerous teen trends," and working with local media consultants to "promote these alleged TikTok trends." Lorenz cites stories about the "devious licks" TikTok challenge, which involved students vandalizing school property, as an example of the firm's success in reaching local media markets "across Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Rhode Island and Washington, D.C."
The story does not mention the fact that the Washington Post published several articles about the "devious licks" challenge.
"Enticed by a viral TikTok challenge, students have pilfered or vandalized items at their schools and then showed off their antics, or 'devious licks,' on the popular social media platform—often as a sped-up version of 'Ski Ski BasedGod' by rapper Lil’ B plays in the background," wrote national breaking news reporter Kim Bellware in September 2021. Around that same time, the Post ran an op-ed headlined, "How to talk to your kids about the Devious Licks school TikTok challenge."
"For much of September, the 'devious licks' TikTok challenge drove young people to rip soap dispensers off bathroom walls, steal random classroom items and even remove entire toilets from their stalls," wrote national reporter Julian Mark several weeks later. "Some students have been criminally charged for partaking in the challenge, and TikTok has attempted to scrub videos and hashtags associated with the trend from its platform."
Several days later, general assignment reporter Lateshia Beachum reported that "a Louisiana teenager could face up to five years behind bars for assaulting a teacher, an attack that authorities say could have been inspired by a TikTok challenge."
As of Wednesday afternoon, none of the articles had been corrected, despite Lorenz's suggestion that the stories are false, that the "devious licks" challenge did not originate on TikTok and may have been inspired by rumors on Facebook. The entire story reads as though it was written by a public relations firm doing anti-Facebook advocacy on behalf of TikTok.
It is not the first time Lorenz has instigated a controversy among her journalistic colleagues. The TikTok advocate, best known for attending an internet celeb's 16th birthday party, caused a stir earlier this month when she spoke to Business Insider for a story about how her former employer, the New York Times, was struggling to retain journalists like herself who are primarily focused on being influencers and building a personal brand.
"When you think about the future of media, it's much more distributed and about personalities," Lorenz said. "Younger people recognize the power of having their own brand and audience, and the longer you stay at a job that restricts you from outside opportunities, the less relevant your brand becomes."
Several of Lorenz's current and former colleagues did not appreciate her remarks. "Will never not be cringey to earnestly refer to 'your brand,'" Jacqueline Alemany, a congressional correspondent for the Post, tweeted in response. At least 10 current Times and Post employees "liked" the tweet. Most notably, Times reporter Maggie Haberman promoted the tweet to her 1.7 million followers. The next day, roughly one week after Russian forces invaded Ukraine, she posted a response to Alemany's tweet: "Is there something going on in the world other than the desire of some folks to get more attention?"
The former colleagues have a contentious history. Lorenz reportedly called Haberman a "bitch" after the pair got into a "blow-up" argument about Lorenz's obsession with Claudia Conway, the teenage daughter of former White House adviser Kellyanne Conway.
Lorenz, 37, is the author of the forthcoming book Extremely Online: Gen Z, the Rise of Influencers, and the Creation of a New American Dream.