How TikTok is Censoring the Left

This morning, I logged onto my main TikTok account, @finnegansache, only to learn that I had received a permanent ban. I had just come off a seven day ban from posting videos, leaving comments, and even sending direct messages to the many friends I have made across the world. I tend to get one of these seven day bans at least once every month.

It goes down like this: Right-wingers target my account, which presently has 26,410 followers, by falsely mass reporting videos that have managed to get through to a sizable audience (quite a few of my TikToks have had viewership in the six figures) and in which I speak out against Republican tyranny (as well as smug Democratic inaction). But because I have racked up enough community guidelines violations — largely factitious — TikTok hits me with a seven day ban, even when I appeal every single one of these falsely flagged videos and win the vast majority of my petitions.

TikTok’s ongoing censorship of marginalized voices is nothing new, but it has yet to be rectified. And the company’s war on free speech is incredibly dangerous during a time in which we need to hear from those who are denied and restricted from other platforms. In March 2000, The Intercept intercepted internal documents at TikTok that revealed a company edict that ordered the moderators to suppress posts made by the poor, the ugly, and the disabled. Not long after this article dropped, Time reported on Black creators also being suppressed by the shady China-based tech giant. The BBC reported that transgender users were censored. The upshot is that, if you aren’t a wildly attractive, white cis hetero type who never talks politics and who looks good while twerking, TikTok and its moderators will go out of their way to silence you — even when the users enjoy your content.

On my TikTok account, I have spoken out against racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, income inequality, climate change deniers, disinformation, fawning Trump acolytes, anti-choicers, sinister misogynists, white supremacists, political corruption, corporate greed, capitalistic ills, the ongoing war on the homeless, conspiracy theorists, and the lachrymose yahoos who attempted insurrection on January 6th. None of these topics are verboten under TikTok’s community guidelines. I have always been a man of the left. A godless heathen who stands for empathy and dignity and human understanding and who isn’t afraid to tell the truth. And because I can’t be bought and because I have always done everything on my own terms (and have won audiences and awards this way), the media ecosystem has gone well out of its way to ignore me or, if they can’t do that, they invent false stories about me. I’ve been kicking around for more than twenty years at this creative game and they’ve never been able to get me on my work. Fragile and talentless egos — which would include the TikTok moderators — tend to be terrified of anyone who pulls a faster gun.

TikTok, on the other hand, has been a welcoming place for an eccentric outlier like me. On TikTok — at least when it works — I’ve been tremendously humbled and honored to listen to other people’s stories and I do my best to live up to my quite accidental and newfound duties of sticking up for the people. With great power comes great responsibility.

Whenever I synthesize recent news into thoughtful and entertaining 60 second videos — all edited in camera with Sam Raimi-style angles to get people to care about increasingly dystopian developments — my TikTok videos have proven to be enormously popular. Perhaps because there is no other voice out there who is speaking out against injustice quite like me and because I have a theatrical panache. I honestly don’t know. I didn’t go onto TikTok to win an audience. It just happened.

Still, I’m cognizant enough to recognize that TikTok — far more than Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram — is the public agora. And if I want to persuade people to give a damn about vital issues, even if it’s only a few dozen, then I have to be on there. And honestly I have enjoyed it.

There are now 1 billion active users on TikTok. If I can get through to at least a small sliver of that vast audience and get them worked up enough to care about social ills or to change things, then, as far as I’m concerned, I’m doing the bare minimum at preventing (or perhaps postponing) the United State of America from sliding into vile despotism. I feel that it is my moral responsibility to raise hell and to call out bullshit in these troubled times and to do so within the framework of the community guidelines. Will I post a thirst trap or dance ridiculously or pick up my guitar and sing and improvise a silly song in order to give people an additional incentive to stand up for abortion rights? You bet your ass I will.

TikTok has also been a healthy outlet for me to perform creative ablutions (roughly six to nine TikToks each day, most of them recorded in one take) just before I roll up my sleeves every weekday morning and get on with the often difficult but always enjoyable business of writing. And, unlike Twitter, I have found that the good people on TikTok are quite capable of behaving like adults, engaging in civil disagreement, and hashing out ideas without getting involved in some jealousy-fueled character assassination campaign predicated upon lies, libel, and unfounded rumors. On TikTok, the Establishment is on an equal footing with the vox populi. Several celebrities have tried to join TikTok and they have been hilariously and mercilessly shot down by an audience that is increasingly less willing to tolerate their clueless and privileged vapidity. The punchy Gen Zers and the fierce millennials on TikTok have restored my faith in the generations who will follow me long after I drop dead. On TikTok, you can’t coast on your fame or your blue checkmark. You actually have to create interesting content that is of the moment. You have to listen to other people. And by simply listening to other people, which I have always done, even a middle-aged punk like me has managed to get through to younger people.

But on TikTok, there’s an altogether different Establishment — a shadow Establishment that is using a wide variety of facile tactics to muzzle anyone who stands against tyranny. The “community guidelines” — much like the constantly revised rules in George Orwell’s Animal Farm — are subject to the whims of some miserable bastard toiling in a 996 perdition.

I can’t win every appeal. Because the TikTok moderators — some of which are reputed to be based in red states and who take out their trauma on those who play by the rules and who work for slave wages — are complicit in silencing my voice. If you mention the Holocaust — even when you are citing specific historical examples — you will be flagged for hate speech — even when you are speaking against hate. If you speak out against bullies, you will be accused of bullying. The TikTok moderators are quite happy to gaslight you. They have deliberately failed to address at least twelve of my videos that were falsely given the ol’ CGV treatment, letting these videos rot in appeal purgatory and accumulate artificial “community guidelines violations” when I have, in fact, not violated any community guidelines in these videos.

While it’s certainly true that my personality defaults quite naturally to anti-authoritarian rebel and that I have a low bullshit threshold, I still abide by community guidelines. And since I tend to be a creative prankster, I decided to prepare 100 TikToks over the course of a week to upload at one time: at the very moment that my latest seven day ban was lifted. This was a ban that was artificially consummated by conservative snowflakes and their willing executioners over at TikTok. (As I said, I won every goddamned appeal against me. But the ban remained enforced.) By the time I had uploaded 45 of these videos, my account was hit with a permanent ban. I had pulled such a stunt before without retribution.

And even though there is no official TikTok policy limiting how many videos one can upload at one time, I was still targeted by the moderators.

Let me be clear that I have had videos falsely targeted for “nudity and sexual activity” when I have merely rubbed my belly while wearing a shirt. I have been targeted for “bullying and harassment” when criticizing the likes of Ron DeSantis and Lauren Boebert for their stupidity and cruelty using objective facts. Meanwhile, sixteen-year-old girls are allowed to dance in skimpy thongs without rebuke and white supremacists and misogynists and pedophiles have been allowed to spread their bilious hatred without being silenced.

About twenty minutes after I received the “permanent ban,” I learned that my account had been restored, although I was hit with another seven day ban. And it is abundantly clear that the TikTok moderators have gone well out of their way to attenuate my voice. Because when you cannot regularly upload videos, your views, followers, comments, and likes take a significant hit. In my case, I have seen up to an 80% drop in engagement every time I am hit with one of these sham timeouts. (You can see from the accompanying image just how much of a hit I took in the last seven days.)

And I’m one of the lucky leftists. A wonderful and well-loved user by the name of @mdg650hawk has been forced to create nine separate accounts, six of which have been permanently banned. He now shuffles between his three remaining accounts. He is a voice of progressive sanity. I’ve never seen the man do anything untoward. But the TikTok moderators have it in for him. A user named @levantinewitch has also been banned for leftist sentiments. Or how about Savannah Edwards? Banned for being a progressive and smart-as-hell Black woman. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of vital progressives who are either banned or who are, like me, on the cusp of being banned. None of them violated any community guidelines. Or, if they did, it was certainly not frequent enough to merit an outright gag on their vital work. Their only crime was to speak truth to power and get through to a lot of people. This is a noble and peaceful practice as old as politics. But TikTok seems to act as if a principled stand — one that is only “offensive” to the chickenheads too intoxicated by the rapturous voices of a fictitious deity and an orange-tinted megalomaniac — is on the level of some creepy guy in a trenchcoat flaunting his junk at a playground.

The optimist in me still believes that TikTok has the potential to be the greatest place that the Internet has ever created. But when such a repugnant autocratic streak pours like some white stripe of paint turning an innocent cat into a skunk for Pepe le Pew to woo, one wonders if there’s any hope for democracy. The pungent smell of a corrupt company with corrupt moderators is simply too malodorous for TikTok’s otherwise promising clime. If TikTok cannot fix this problem — and it seems very much that they can’t and they won’t — then it’s time for some tech entrepreneur to roll the VC dice and beat TikTok at its own game. The panoply is too important for us to settle for anything less.

My Body Was Never Broken

I was a pale and scrawny kid. I recall lying in bed late at night as a boy, poking at the bones that scraped a mere millimeter beneath my skin and feeling a profound shame at my emaciated form. My mother was so financially irresponsible that she would only go shopping for groceries every three weeks, yet somehow always managed to have a big box of cheap White Zinfandel in the fridge even when the food ran out. I have terrible memories of chanting with my sister for our mother to return home from work with food. She often forgot about us. Often, when we asked what was for dinner, she would hand us dollar bills and she would tell us to hike to the gas station up the street and buy two of the mildewed 99 cent burgers that rested for days under a heat lamp — all this as she lounged on the couch and drank vast quantities of cheap wine and felt sorry for herself as she watched Love Connection. (We would find the telltale Burger King wrappers in her car, revealing her clandestine post-work fast food trips, and this explained why she didn’t eat with us.) Still, we kept the faith. We invented songs to pass the time as our bellies grumbled. The phrase “Fend for yourself” became a regular mantra growing up. And since there was scant food, this often meant grabbing an English muffin, placing ketchup on the base, and topping this with a very thin layer of cheap Cheddar cheese. (We had a cheese slicer that allowed you to scrape veneer-thin layers because you didn’t want to be the asshole who took the last of the precious block. These days, whenever I buy more than one slab of cheese on any given week, it still feels libertine, if not scandalous or obscene.) Then you would microwave this ghastly concoction and wince as you wolfed it down. One of the reasons I became a somewhat accomplished cook in my adult years — even winning the praise of a professional food critic whom I dated a few years ago and who was very kind in her plaudits when I invited her over for a three-course home-cooked dinner — was largely because I was atoning for a childhood forged in starvation and neglect. And these days I always have a stockpile of beans and rice in the larder that rivals a well-equipped bomb shelter, along with tons of frozen meat in the freezer. I never want to live this way again.

We lived in a series of crappy apartment complexes that were often poorly maintained — brown paint rusting in jagged peels along the shaky sides of ramshackle buildings, perfunctorily touched up with a few fresh coats whenever there was a surfeit of vacancies. These units were populated by an untold number of hardscrabble survivors and troubled people. Some were comfortably lower middle-class and admirably resourceful with their money. I suspect that my knack for living quite frugally during lean times in one of the most expensive cities in the world was shaped by parsimonious exemplars established by some of these ingenious single mothers. Others were poor largely because they didn’t know how to squeeze the most from their meager paychecks. There was the family who dealt weed and coke who lived just beneath us at one place. My clueless mother was oblivious to their side hustle. Or maybe it was their main hustle. I really don’t know. I’ve never been interested in drugs, because I recall the sketchy figures who waited just outside this family’s apartment for a quick fix. There was a patch of lawn beneath an electric tower that hummed with the steady thrum of cancerous radiation and the grass was only kept watered because this swath happened to be situated next to the main drag and the cutthroat types who ran the apartment complex obviously needed to keep up appearances. There were a few crooked kids I bicycled with who urged me to shoplift and then, when one of our number was caught, they framed me as the criminal mastermind, even though it had never been my idea. I felt ashamed and guilty about stuffing a Weird Al Yankovic cassette down my pants at a K-Mart — the result of such vicious peer pressure — that I later profusely apologized to Mr. Yankovic in person when I had the opportunity to interview him decades later. Yankovic was incredibly kind but he was baffled and a little disturbed by this out-of-the-blue confession. But I had been carrying this burden for years and he seemed the only man who could provide expiation. As an adult, you learn just how much accumulated childhood trauma marks your path in adulthood. For better or worse.

But there was a silver lining to all this: these apartment complexes usually had a swimming pool. This was California, after all. And I had always loved to swim. Until there came a point where I dreaded going to the pool. Kids, as we all know, are deeply ruthless. And they were certainly incredibly cruel to me. I was called “skinny fuck” and “pale bastard.” And the insults were relentless. I became so paralyzed by these constant sullies that I began wearing T-shirts into the water, hoping that it would deter these bullies from their merciless commentary on my physicality. I never said anything in return. I hadn’t yet learned to fight any bully with devastating burns and vitriolic wit, something I am still forced to do from time to time. Yet still the kids kept up with their brutal fusillades.

By the time I was a teenager, I had come to believe that I was ugly and not sexy at all. Even though I had a few high school lovers, sweet girls who gently coaxed this backstory from me and encouraged me to take my shirt off and told me how hot I was. Still, I didn’t believe it. It certainly didn’t help that my family was incredibly Puritanical when it came to the realities of sex and the body. I rebelled against this by signing up for a Playboy subscription when I was sixteen and racing to the mailbox just after I came home from school to intercept every monthly issue bound in black plastic.

Despite all this, I was deeply ashamed of my body. Which was ridiculous. Because I never received complaints about my body from any lover in my adult life. (Oh, there was plenty to complain about on so many other fronts! I assure you that I was an awful boyfriend to many!) Whenever a girlfriend would compliment my body in bed, I would deflect her attentions, which completely embarrassed me, by becoming highly solicitous to her. I suppose that this is one of the reasons why I picked up a variegated repertoire of moves that later lovers remarked favorably on. They often told me that I was the first man to proffer a bespoke flourish that they greatly enjoyed. But this sexual precocity was driven more by pragmatism and self-disguise rather than any hubris-fueled desire to be some feckless fuckboi. I mean, you couldn’t very well distract your girl the same way every time, could you?

Years passed. I became more confident on a variety of fronts, save this thorny one that concerned my body. It deeply upset me that I was in my forties and still slightly ashamed of being shirtless. But my approach to any problem is to confront it head-on. And during the first months of the pandemic, when everything was closed, one of the few places that remained open was the beach. Like everyone, I had lost all of my gigs. And I was despondent. But the buses were free. And I started going to the beach on a regular basis. And when I saw older men who had let themselves go and who wandered along the sands without a single care in the world, it emboldened me to take off my shirt. Women approached me and flirted with shameless eclat. Gay men whistled at me. I was stunned by all of these developments. It became part of my routine to go to the beach with a few books and expose my bare chest to the sun. One of my closest friends accompanied me on some of these beach sojurns. She was very familiar with my body shame hangups and did what all good friends do: she urged me in the strongest possible terms to take off my fucking shirt. And I did. Another woman who I was dating had access to a rooftop pool in Jersey City. She also caught wind of my dysmorphia and declared that I was sexy as fuck and demanded that I accompany her with my shirt off. She pledged to wear her most revealing bikini and make the date very much worth my while. So I did.

Then, last year, I fell for the wrong woman. A narcissist who played a deep-level gaslighting game that you only find out about when it’s much too late. She did a number on me in so many ways. She contacted my friends and insisted that I was “troubled.” She emotionally manipulated me. In bed, she would curl herself up, making herself as cold and as emotionless and as unresponsive as possible. And none of my moves or the fulsome and multifarious attentions that I tender to any lover worked on her. Not a single one. I had never experienced such treatment. Even when the sex was not the greatest, I always hit a dependable baseline. And that simply didn’t exist here. The old pangs of body shame returned. I felt deeply unattractive. I felt sexually undesirable. I began to drink heavily. A bottle of wine, sometimes two, every day. Fifths of whiskey that I downed in a frighteningly swift amount of time. It certainly didn’t help that I was unemployed and burning through my savings at a rapid clip. I had a significant breakdown back in January. (Thank heavens that my friend Pete Lutz enlisted me to score a Western soundtrack for his audio drama. Pete has no idea how much composing these sixteen cues helped me to get back on the straight and narrow. And I am deeply indebted to him for his faith in my talent and his unfathomable graciousness. And I’ve discovered this year, much to my surprise, that I apparently have some aptitude for scoring and orchestration. When I rearranged an old Doctor Who music cue, I received an incredibly kind email from the original composer!)

When I finally escaped this toxic relationship, I took a break from dating for many months. I didn’t want to encumber anyone with my inner turmoil. I stayed sober for four months and this, combined with walking, caused the pounds that I had accumulated in the winter to melt off. (These days, I usually avoid hard liquor and I only have a few beers on the weekend. This is largely because I am hopelessly smitten with karaoke. And even in my old age, I still go to a few clubs because I love to dance and the only thing you tend to drink there is tons of water.)

But I still carried the dregs of feeling that my body was hideous. Christ, I was in my late forties and I still bought into this horseshit? I watched Lizzo videos over and over. She became a personal hero to me with her body-positive, give-no-fucks approach. Goddammit, why the hell couldn’t I be that confident?

Then I made a trip to New Orleans for my birthday weekend. I had never been to this incredible city before and had always wanted to visit it. It turns out that I needed New Orleans more than I knew. I wish that I had visited the Big Easy in my twenties. So many difficulties that I’ve faced in the last two decades would have been far more easier for me to deal with. I was stunned by the women — both the locals and the visitors. They were all beautiful, inside and outside. They walked the French Quarter with confidence. And they accosted me. Every hour, there was someone new who expressed interest in me. One woman asked if she could kiss me on the forehead. I said, “That depends. Will it bring you good fortune?” She said, “Oh, absolutely.” And I said okay and permitted her to kiss my forehead. Another woman pulled over in her car, veering sharply to the sidewalk from a good block away, and said, “Hey, baby, where you going?” I went to a club and saw a beautiful woman from Ecuador dancing by herself. I felt that this was criminal. And I jumped up on stage and started allemanding with her: my dependable mix of spastic white guy moves and a little salsa and swing that I had learned. We became more physical. I picked her up and spun her around the floor and she loved this. The crowd roared at our performance. Five minutes later, we were making out. And the DJ approached me and said, “Dude, I don’t know how you did that.” I told him that I didn’t know either. And there were plenty of other things that happened in Louisiana that I cannot report here.

But that’s New Orleans for you. And if you ever doubt yourself, I highly recommend that you hit the place for a very fun weekend.

But I returned to Brooklyn with some missing piece of me restored. I became determined to shut down this body shame once and for all.

So I started to make thirst traps. Friends-only posts on TikTok. I had never appeared shirtless on TikTok before. I have tended to stick with my wit and my erudition as foolproof charms.

But this obviously needed to change. For we all contain multitudes.

The first thirst trap involved me dancing and intercutting footage of me without a shirt, but I was still clutching my slightly chubby belly with nervousness and self-consciousness. But something unexpected happened. Much to my surprise, this video proved immensely popular. I was inundated with women sliding into my DMs and leaving scandalously flirtatious comments, demanding more. (One of my followers said that, if she weren’t in a healthy marriage, she would drop her husband in a minute and show me a fun time.) A woman from Canada tried to set me up with one of her friends here in New York City. Another person told me that he had showed the thirst trap to his date and that she had blushed with delight.

What the hell was going on here?

I made a second thirst trap in which I used a filter inspired by the grayscale rotoscoping from the famous video for a-ha’s “Take on Me.” And in this thirst trap, I crossed to the illustrative side and took my shirt off. It was blurry enough on that area of the frame for me to hide. This thirst trip also proved to be a big hit.

But I was still covering my shirtless form with my T-shirt. I was still a little hindered by the poisonous invective that these little bastards at the swimming pool had planted in my head so many years before. And I was a grownass man.

So last night, I decided to make a third thirst trap in which I would not disguise myself in any way. My body would be completely exposed. Fuck the haters. Fuck my dysmorphia. Fuck the little twerps from my childhood. This was about me owning who I was and being unapologetic about it.

I busted out my strobe light and put on my sexiest pair of underwear and I performed a number of poses: grinding against the wall, putting my leg — well-toned from all the walking — seductively into the air. I edited the video on my phone with a wonderful app called PowerDirector that is worth every penny. I cut each strobe flash on the beat into some footage of me walking obliviously in my apartment. The idea here was to show that I had this part of me. To suggest that it was all innocent, but to be a little outrageous about it.

I was fully prepared to be condemned and flayed alive for my boldest and most provocative thirst trap yet! But this thirst trap proved even more popular than the other two. My comments lit up with growing concatenations of flame emoji. Three women asked if I was still single. I was declared a DILF. Other women expressed how they loved my confidence. But, of course, I had been faking it. Confidence is really something that happens only when you become more comfortable after crossing a certain nervous line. And if you’re not doing that on a regular basis, then you’re probably dead inside, too mesmerized by a risk-averse and “stable” lifestyle in which you will never take a chance and you will never grow.

I was once again flattered, flabbergasted, and humbled. But it is now indisputable that, among a certain crowd, I still have it. And I can definitely go to the grave saying that I flaunted my body at the last possible time when it was in somewhat decent shape and that I had a lot of fun doing this. Better late than never!

It turns out that my body was never broken. That all of the hangups that I have lived with for more than four decades were largely in my own head. That women do like me and do find me attractive. And that I really need to acknowledge this more.

If you told me three months ago that I would be making thirst traps on TikTok, I wouldn’t have believed you. Certainly thirst traps are not for everyone. But one of the best ways to combat a deep-seated uncertainty is to throw caution to the wind and face the very fears that prevent you from being your fullest and truest self. After all, we only live once!

Brady Pesola, @shh.adults.are.talking, and TikTok Misogyny

This morning, I learned that my TikTok account was permanently banned. Why? Because I spoke out against the misogynistic TikTok user Brady Pesola, who goes by the handle @shh.adults.are.talking.

Pesola specializes in a type of repugnant hypermasculine sexism that has netted him nearly half a million followers. His ugly formula of speaking in a tenth-rate John Wayne swagger and casually demeaning women for their feelings and their thoughts has proven such an alluring draw that he has been able to parlay this into a sizable fan base. I had responded to one of Pesola’s slightly less sexist posts in which he boomed, “Stop being an insecure little bitch and grow up,” by pointing out, quite calmly, that being emotional was not a sign of insecurity. For this, Pesola singled me out as “unhinged,” prefacing his stitch by saying “This one’s extra spicy.”

I was then bombarded by numerous comments from Pesola’s followers and later had my account hit with false reports of bullying and harassment, after I proceeded to outline the full extent of Pesola’s misogyny in a series of videos. And I received a permanent ban. I have tried to appeal this ban, but I have heard nothing from TikTok. The message is clear. TikTok supports the misogyny of creators with huge followings rather than the small-time people who speak out against such vile strains. I also suspect that I was targeted by TikTok because a few of my anti-corporate and pro-union videos went viral. Since I cannot access my videos, this article represents a thorough effort to expose and document Pesola’s clear hatred of women, as well as TikTok’s willful advocacy of misogyny among its high-ranked creators, despite community guidelines declaring that hateful behavior directed towards a group is prohibited. A thorough review of Pesola’s TikTok feed reveals that he violated these rules multiple times and faced no consequences — aside from a 24 hour ban in December 2020 and a permanent ban for twenty minutes that was somehow removed this month. Apparently, if you have enough followers on TikTok, you can get away with saying anything. The rules don’t apply to those who have the clout.

Pesola, a former Marine based in the San Diego area (originally from Minnesota) who runs a dubious nonprofit operation known as the Gray Man Project with some shady emphasis on self-reliance (a public records search and a Guidestar dive reveals no record), published his first TikTok on October 11, 2020. He has claimed to be a private investigator. A search with the California Department of Affairs reveals that he is licensed (with a firearms permit) through October 31, 2022. Pesola’s license matches up with an operation called The People’s Detective, which claims to be “a full-service investigative agency with a 30-year track record of successful investigations, high profile cases, and newsworthy discoveries.” (The People’s Detective did not return my requests for comment.)

Pesola’s initial four videos detailed how a Sharpie, a flashlight, and a belt could be used to attack someone and his initial videos shortly after this quartet were carried out with a strain of tough-talking military bravado and alleged expertise. This was apparently enough for Pesola to earn the beginnings of a following, where his relationship to his audience would involve addressing douchebags (while mispronouncing Epictetus, whom he has frequently declared to be his favorite philosopher) and engaging in fairly unimaginative conservative talking points.

As Pesola acquired more of an audience, it took only days for Pesola to go off the deep end with an October 14, 2020 video in which he declared, “Toxic masculinity is a myth…Masculinity is a heightened state of being that all men should strive for.” By October 23, 2020, Pesola began honing the beginnings of his pugnacious TikTok formula, calling some of his audience “motherfuckers” and “miserable pricks.” But this was enough for Pesola to gain 11,000 followers in two weeks. Pesola then started stylizing his voice in a preposterously deep manner to woo more followers. At this point, the strains of misogyny and ugliness that were to become Pesola’s hallmarks still drifted somewhat in the background. But since this was his chief draw, it became more of his raison when publishing videos.

In an October 20, 2020 video, Pesola offered hotel advice, claiming that you didn’t want to get a hotel room on the second floor because there might be “some fucking crackhead breaking in the window and wanting to get in bed with you in the middle of the night. Unless you’re into that.” He called peaceful protesters “fucking retards.” By the end of October 2020, Pesola gradually strayed away from his tips on security and began embracing the beginning of his bullying, going after the “ignorant fucking retards.” He reveled in crude violence when offering “advice” to domestic violence survivors, suggesting that women “turn into the most vicious, fucking, violent psychopath you can imagine in your entire life.” While dispensing questionable wisdom to rape survivors, Pesola giddily declared, “Guys will fuck you with a potato sack and heels on.”

By November 2020, Pesola’s feed had become a reliable hotbed of hideous misogynistic takes. He bemoaned the idea of men facing penalties for hitting a woman while adopting a phony position against domestic violence. (Pesola spent most of his time in this video siding with men who were simply “defending” themselves, concluding in a crude manner, “I don’t care how good the pussy is. Get away from that toxic shit.”) In a November 11, 2020 video viewed by 912,600 people, Pesola reached his first major viral nadir of casual misogyny, claiming that preventing rape was the responsibility of women and that it was a woman’s obligation to parent well: “I got an idea. Be better fucking mothers.” When, on November 28, 2020, a TikTok user named @gishaz called Pesola out on the misogyny of this post, Pesola smugly responded, “So you agree then that the world does need better mothers.”

It took six weeks for Pesola to hit 100,000 followers. And by early December 2020, the fame had swelled to Pesola’s head. He confidently announced, “Hello ladies. I know what makes you tick.” In a multipart series that began on December 6, 2020, Pesola giddily described how he manipulated an escort into almost having sex with him for free, later bragging about lying to this escort by claiming to be an escort, and offering further confabulations that he couldn’t enter into a meaningful relationship because of his false escort role. For Pesola, women are merely sexual vessels to be used — with counterfeit empathy as the tool.

By December 22, 2020, Pesola was referring to himself as a “famous TikTokker” and, with his colossal hubris confirmed by his growing follower base, he declared on Christmas Eve, “Frankly, I don’t give a fuck if I’m likable. Apparently, 160,000 followers is telling me [sic] that I’m doing something right.” And there was more sexism to come: Pesola remarked on the unfairness of men paying child support, offered tips on how to keylog a lover’s phone, claimed that there was no such thing as rape culture (“It’s illogical and just plain fucking stupid.”), reconfirmed his view that toxic masculinity was a myth, and took the side of a man in a marriage split without considering the woman’s perspective (“It sounds like his ex-wife is a righteous cunt.”). By the turn of the year, Pesola had become hopelessly resolute in his hatred of women. When not condemning Nelson Mandela, he claimed that a man giving his phone to his girlfriend was weak (“Oh boy! That’s a red flag towards an unhealthy and toxic relationship.”), demeaned women for not revolving their entire lives around men (“If she doesn’t value your time as her man, then she’s always going to be a waste of time as your woman.”), and condemned women for allowing men to be disrespected.

On November 19, 2020, Pesola risibly claimed that it was important to treat people with different perspectives and worldviews with respect. It was advice that he was not to follow months later when he started using his bully pulpit to crush any position that differed from his own. He started addressing his audience as “fuckfaces” in late January. He engaged in casual fat-shaming with a disturbing eugenics streak, demanded that women make more money as they aged (“Your looks depreciate as you get older.”), claimed that blowjobs were the male equivalent to a woman receiving flowers, claimed that anyone who was offended by behavior was a “stupid fuck,” and falsely claimed that the government was forcing people to get vaccinated.

Pesola did not reply to my questions. But the undeniable strain of misogyny in Pesola’s TikTok feed is clearly the very quality that the TikTok algorithm values the most. This allowed an unremarkable chowderhead in Carlsbad with a toxic strain of sexism to become a small-time TikTok star. Systemic misogyny appears to be permanently baked into the factors that cause TikTok videos to end up on the For You Page. And if you speak out against this nefarious truth, you get banned. In my case, I made hundreds of largely benign videos on TikTok. I offered empathy to people who looked like they were in trouble. I sang songs. I cracked jokes. But none of that matters. Because I dared to speak out against a garden variety thug like Pesola, all that I made is now inaccessible to me. I have no backup copies. Pesola, on the other hand, will be just fine. And it is because Pesola perceives women as little more than shallow little wretches to manipulate. Despite the significant advances of the #metoo movement, hating women is apparently still your hot ticket to social media fame.

5/28/21 UPDATE: Deputy Daniel “Duke” Trujillo is now dead of COVID. This Denver deputy did not have to die. He could have received his vaccination. But as the Twitter user @RacistProgramming reported, Trujillo was heavily influenced by one of Pesola’s anti-vaxx videos.

As of the morning of May 28, 2001, Pesola has also made his TikTok account private:

5/30/21 UPDATE: Faced with intense scrutiny from appalled users, Pesola has deleted all of his social media accounts, including TikTok and Twitter.

Marcus DiPaola is Not a Journalist

If you’re on TikTok, there’s a good chance that you’ve stumbled across Marcus DiPaola on your For You Page. He has 2.5 million followers and he doesn’t follow anybody back. With thick-framed glasses, poorly groomed stubble, and hair parted in the middle in a manner that suggests that he could be the love child of Alfalfa and a Williamsburg hipster, DiPaola reads the news in an intense and fearmongering style against an Olan Mills backdrop that is grossly at odds with his “I spend most of my time in a basement” aesthetic. Think of DiPaola as Awkward Family Photos enhanced with white male rage. Like many grifters who have made a name for themselves in an age in which facts, fairness, and the appearance of objectivity are increasingly devalued, DiPaola cloaks his inadequacies behind his mission statement: that he is, according to his own bio, using a writing style “designed to make it possible for middle schoolers with learning disabilities to understand the news.” But if this were truly the case, why then does DiPaola enunciate innocent words like “trains” with all the sinister timbre of Richard III chewing up the scenery just before hiring assassins to kill his older brother? If he is truly speaking to children, why then does his content have the feel of Walter Winchell with severe anger management issues? DiPaola reminds me of that Simpsons bit in which Christopher Walken read Goodnight Moon, only for the kids to scurry away in fear.

Up until recently, DiPaola’s bizarrely aggressive “reporting” style was largely tolerated as something you had to endure before scrolling onto a shirtless Russian man loving his bear in subzero temperatures. But on March 29th, DiPaola offered a preposterously inaccurate report that “LGBTQ residents of Philadelphia are getting attacked by criminals so often that, today, the person in charge of dealing with crime in Philadelphia created an advisory board to figure out how to deal with the problem.” It is certainly true that a transgender woman was attacked in Philadelphia on March 20th and that there was an uptick in transgender attacks last year. But DiPaola’s hysterical rhetoric suggested that Philly was something out of Frank Miller’s apocalyptic portrayals of Gotham. Last year, USA Today reported that Philadelphia was among the friendliest cities to LGBTQ people. The city was one of the first places in America to initiate a yearly Pride parade in 1972.

@marcus.dipaola

If you don’t recognize the real world is a scary place, it’s time to grow up.

♬ original sound – Marcus DiPaola

DiPaola faced rightful pushback for his histrionics, which felt more like the bilious white supremacy spewed by Tucker Carlson than a man who professes to “anchor the news” on his Twitter bio. He never once corrected his inaccuracies — the basic responsibility of even a soi-disant journalist. Instead, he doubled down on his demagogic fury with a video that was swiftly parodied and widely condemned:

Journalism exists to point out things going wrong so people can change them. It is never my job to cheerlead or to make people happy. It is my job to point out the scary and bad stuff happening in the world, to build up pressure on the people in power so they fix things. If you want to make a change in the world, this is the channel for you. If you’re scared of real life and want to pretend things are perfect, follow someone else.

As the user @jewishanarchist observed, this represented a case in which DiPaola refused to countenance the LGBTQ-friendly truth of living in Philadelphia. “You might not have the job to cheerlead,” said @jewishanarchist, who grew up in Philly and who noted the vibrant drag scene in the City of Brotherly Love, “but you have the job to represent the accurate facts. Because what you did? You made the people of Philly look bad. You didn’t make the government of Philly look bad. You made the people look bad. That’s bad reporting.”

Moreover, there’s something incredibly dodgy in DiPaola’s partisan approach here. It is a journalist’s job to present the facts fairly and accurately. If the reader (or, in this case, the viewer) decides that she wants to change things, then that’s on the audience, not the journalist. But these basic responsibilities are clearly beyond DiPaola’s wildly limited faculties. He often fails to cite his sources. And a cursory exhumation of his feed instantly reveals numerous inaccuracies or willful misreadings of other reports. Irrespective of who your audience is, this is a deeply irresponsible approach for anyone who claims to report the news.

DiPaola could be easily ignored if he didn’t have such a large platform to deliver his venomous spittle-flecked tirades. The fact of the matter is that, for some people who are hopelessly hooked on TikTok (it is incredibly addictive!), DiPaola could very well be the first place that they hear about a news story. And if they hear it from a man who is so careless and capricious with the facts, then DiPaola’s outsize influence is incredibly dangerous. Not unlike Father Coughlin in the 1930s, who used his vast radio audience to whip up widespread anti-Semitism and support for fascism. Even comedians like Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and John Oliver have employed fact-checkers. Because they have known very well that millions of people are watching their shows and that they have a responsibility to convey the basic truth.

But DiPaola shows no such care or commitment. He cannot, by any standard, be called a journalist.