Washington Post journalist Taylor Lorenz is a reporter who gets inside the stories she covers. She is controversial and hard-hitting.
And even before she ran afoul of Elon Musk’s ever-changing “rules,” she was willing to say things in public that others only said behind closed doors.
When Lorenz spoke to a group of teens last month, she explained that she’s more than an outsider looking in. “I cover the online creator and influencer industry, which is dominated by young people. A lot of young people are wary of the press. My beat is based on taking young people seriously. “
She’s not new at this beat, either. “I started writing about all of this world after becoming popular on Tumblr in 2009 and then just sort of started to write more and more about the Internet, the rise of Twitter, Vine, and social media.”
Lorenz takes social media seriously, and TikTok in particular. “A lot of what I try to do with my work is to validate that industry," she says.
“Why is Tik Tok so influential? A lot of people in the media frame TikTok as a dance app or a silly app where, you know, there's just a bunch of children doing silly dances and challenges and things. And that's not really true. TikTok is a really important medium for communication, especially communication about news and current events.
“That's where people, especially young people, go to find out about the world,” adds Lorenz. She point to videos on TikTok that are streaming from Ukraine: “ You saw people in Ukraine making TikToks talking about their lives.”
As Lorenz sees it, there’s a history of mainstream media trivializing new upcoming platforms. “Before TikTok came, YouTube was dominant. If you look back at a lot of coverage of early YouTube, you saw the same thing. People just writing about it like, oh, it's just a bunch of cat videos. Now a lot of people turn to YouTubers before they turn to any kind of traditional publication.”
Lorenz points to groups like Gen Z for Change, a coalition of 500 TikTok creators, that are using the platform to amplify activism. “I think it's it's just so important to understand in this shifting media landscape that young people have a big opportunity, because you can basically create your own media company on the Internet and reach people that way.”
So what about the rising tide of critics who say that TikTok’s Chinese ownership and ties to the CCP make it too dangerous to allow to grow unchecked in the U.S.?
Taylor told CNN, “TikTok has cut into Facebook’s business, and Facebook has spent tons of money aggressively lobbying against TikTok.”
TikTok is banned now on government devices, and State devices in Utah, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, Alabama, South Carolina, and Maryland.
“These lawmakers are banning TikTok without any evidence of any wrongdoing," says Lorenz. "You have to look at a lot more, Chinese investment in Silicon Valley than just TikTok.” But TikTok’s total ad revenues are on track to be 10 billion, up from 4 billion in 2021, making it a significant economic threat to the U.S. social platforms.
Lorenz finds herself back in the news, as Elon Musk continues his seemingly random banning of reporters from organizations including the New York Times, CNN -- and, yes, the Washington Post. Lorenz posted on her Substack her puzzlement at the random ban. “I received zero communication from the company on why I was suspended or what terms I violated."
She noted that "Elon seems to be banning anyone who disagrees with him,” calling Musk’s action “super-crazy” in a video she shared on TikTok.
Being a tech reporter in these fast-moving times can be daunting. But Taylor Lorenz seems hardly put off by the fray, choosing instead to jump in and work to understand the shifting social sands from inside the sandbox, making her reporting all the more insightful.