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After Womblands threw their community into chaos, call-out creators face an existential crisis

They claim to expose bigotry on TikTok—but are they doing more harm than good?

 

Charlotte Colombo

Internet Culture

Posted on Apr 14, 2022   Updated on Sep 29, 2022, 11:27 am CDT

By now, the situation between TikTok creators Lance Tsosi (better known as Modern Warrior), Chelsea Hart, and Amanda Marie—in which Hart and Marie accused Tsosi of lying to them about his sexual partners in order to convince them to have unprotected sex—has been covered at-length. The controversy has been dubbed the “Womblands” saga, based on a misquoted phrase from one of Hart’s TikToks about Tsosi.

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Hot takes and analysis on Womblands have amassed over 300 million views on the app last month alone. Subsequently, Womblands has had unintended consequences for various progressive sides of TikTok. What started as an apparent attempt at holding Tsosi, an Indigenous man, accountable for allegedly lying to Hart and Marie, quickly led to an attack on other Indigenous TikTokers who are unaffiliated with Tsosi. 

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Furthermore, Womblands had a ripple effect among Tsosi’s contemporaries—call-out creators who initially built their platforms off of videos calling out “bad actors”—causing in-fighting among people previously believed to be vigilantes against injustice. Needless to say, the way these call-out-creators have now turned on each other, sparking their own feuds off the back of Womblands, shows how fragile this genre is at its core. As a result, many Black and Indigenous TikTokers have spoken out against call-out creators and questioned the good they do for the communities they try to serve.  

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Hart, Tsosi, and their peers—people like Denise Bradley (@AuntKaren0), Danesh (@ThatDaneshGuy), and Savannah Sparks (@rx0rcist)—are all considered “call-out creators.” They are TikTokers who have built platforms by calling out public figures, other creators, or anyone going viral for problematic or bigoted behavior—past or present. 

For example, with her “Racist of the Day” videos, Bradley has called out discrimination from individuals like finance CEO Eileen Cure, who allegedly said she didn’t want to employ Black people and whose husband threatened violence against Bradley. While many users praise creators like Bradley for risking their safety to make this kind of content—pointing out that it brings attention to discriminatory practices made by individuals in positions of power—others aren’t so sure if her type of content was productive.

Some TikTokers have described this method of accountability as carceral, with the focus being on “gotcha” moments and punishing individuals rather than educating them or providing aid to the people they harmed. 

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For instance, Bradley initially called out Tsosi following Hart’s claims that they weren’t aware he was sleeping with more than one person. In her video, she used a TikTok sound typically used to expose “sex offenders.” However, as more information related to these allegations came to light, Bradley apologized for getting involved and called out Hart’s “[white] tears.” Still, some have attributed Bradley’s initial video calling Tsosi a “sex offender” as a catalyst for the situation. Neither Bradley, Tsosi, nor Hart responded to Passionfruit’s request for comment for this story.

Spin-off drama raises questions about the purpose of “call-outs”

Meanwhile, amid the fallout of the Womblands saga, Patrick Jeanty, a TikToker who makes reaction content, made a video questioning why call-out creators Danesh and Sparks had not commented on Tsosi or Hart. He accused them of being selective in who they call out, which he argued makes their allyship to marginalized communities conditional and performative. As a result, Danesh made a now-deleted video criticizing Jeanty’s criminal record. (According to New Jersey court records, Jeanty pled guilty to second degree abuse, abandonment, cruelty, and neglect. Jeanty has previously described the incident as a neglect case brought about by the actions of a babysitter.) Additionally, screenshots show Danesh and Sparks made comments about Jeanty not having custody of his kids, which Jeanty said were false statements. 

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The incident between Jeanty, Danesh, and Sparks—cheekily referred to as “Womblands season two”— highlighted what critics believe is the worst aspect of large call-out accounts: the punishing methods they use to take down others. Danesh and Sparks faced backlash for bringing up Jeanty’s record and children as a “gotcha” moment.

Jeanty criticized Danesh for bringing his kids into the discussion and stated that he currently has custody of them. Jeanty said in his video, “Imagine being so triggered that a Black man is calling out you and your white friends for being performative on this app, that you have to go as far as to say this.” 

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Users flooded Jeanty’s video, which is still live, with supportive comments agreeing that Danesh was weaponizing his kids. When one user commented that “insinuating that a Black man is a deadbeat father is literal racism,” Jeanty replied in agreement. 

In a follow-up video, Danesh denied that his response was about Jeanty calling him “performative” and instead claimed that Jeanty was creating a “false image” of him. Danesh also said Jeanty put him in danger of online abuse by using “escalating” rhetoric on TikTok Live. However, many still accused Danesh and Sparks of relying on racial stereotypes of Black men to justify sending their followers to mass-report a smaller creator. Jeanty and Sparks did not respond to Passionfruit’s request for comment.

In a statement to Passionfruit, Danesh alleged that his issues with Jeanty began last November. He also criticized Jeanty for speaking out against “white tears” during Womblands, but not when a white woman allegedly made false accusations about him in January.

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“Patrick never said a word in support, but when Chelsea and Lance had their issue, suddenly he was totally aware of how dangerous white woman tears are,” Danesh said. 

Danesh claimed that after he confronted Jeanty about this in a video, Jeanty went on TikTok Live and said Danesh, who identifies as Middle Eastern, is not a person of color. In response, Danesh showed Jeanty’s criminal record. Addressing criticism that this move weaponized Jeanty’s children, Danesh called the claims “disingenuous.” However, he also said he should not have participated in the “drama.”

“I should never have engaged,” Danesh said. “Everyone just pointing fingers at each other, forgetting intersectionality, and weaponizing real trauma for views. I know better in the future to not engage.”

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Critics say call-out creators’ methods are unproductive

The unsavory acts of one creator can bring down others, causing them to collapse collectively like dominos. These call-out accounts’ response to the Womblands saga leaves us with this very meta situation wherein call-out creators are being called out by other call-out creators in an insular and, arguably, unproductive cycle.

For TikTokers such as Anastasia Gracia, Kahlil Greene, and Stephanie, this cycle sheds some much-needed light on some fundamental issues with “call-out creators” as a concept. According to them, this type of creator reinforces carceral punishment, does little to actually tackle systemic issues, and oftentimes isn’t properly educated on the issues they’ve marketed themselves as an advocate of. This begs the question: Is it time’s up for call-out creators?

“Call-out culture and cancel culture originated as tools by marginalized people in order to hold people who were being oppressive accountable and to get them out of spaces, and they are effective tools,” Anastasia Gracia, a commentary TikTok creator, told Passionfruit. “But I think the problem now is that many people have made social activism a brand when it shouldn’t be.”

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According to Gracia, “A lot of these people actually want to be influencers who happen to talk about social activism, but they’d rather just use social activism to become the influencer. So a lot of them are not genuinely devoted to getting rid of systemic issues.”

Performative activism, a term popularized during 2020’s Black Lives Matter protests, refers to calls for social change—typically carried out online—that are done out of a desire to increase their social capital, as opposed to a genuine care about the cause that they are campaigning for. This kind of activism, according to self-proclaimed Gen Z historian and online educator Kahlil Greene, goes hand-in-hand with these kinds of accounts. 

“Calling things out is sometimes very necessary, especially when the injustice doesn’t have a lot of attention on it,” Greene told Passionfruit “But sometimes I feel that there are people on TikTok, who use call outs as a sort of attention-grabbing device over a device to educate or seek proper accountability for people who are wrong.” 

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Greene added that these kinds of accounts can actually be counterproductive because, by highlighting the harmful attitudes they are calling out, they are elevating those views to a wider audience. This approach, Greene says, is problematic because it doesn’t help to educate people on why said-users’ views are wrong and makes it difficult for any social progression to actually take place. Oftentimes, according to Greene, these accounts’ activism is limited to sending their followers to attack the user in question. 

Gracia believes the way these accounts encourage followers to harass or “dox” the user they’re calling out will make people less inclined to see the error in their ways and more determined to stick to their original prejudices. This approach, Gracia adds, is carceral because it is based on punishment rather than education and rehabilitation.

“People need to stop making these clout accounts that are purely based off of punitive things, carceral things, because it ends up hurting marginalized groups,” she said. “The people that you’re calling out don’t generally care about changing. You’re actually just exposing marginalized groups to nothing but just racist, transphobic, homophobic, anti-semitic bigotry consistently, and why do we want to see that?” 

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For TikTok creator Stephanie, another issue that arises from sending other accounts to attack a user in the name of activism is that it encourages a system of surveillance which, she says, is akin to a police state. 

“This is dangerous and will always harm the communities that they claim to protect the most,” she said. “You can’t take down white supremacy using white supremacy. It just doesn’t work.”

Gracia thinks these accounts are not entirely educated on certain social issues, which does little to further the activism they campaign for.

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“It’s not genuine. A lot of these people aren’t really educated on these things,” she said. “So the social activism just becomes a front.”

Another issue with these kinds of accounts is that the creator is the only one who reaps the benefits of this kind of activism, Stephanie added. On March 22, rumors surfaced that Hart had started selling T-shirts with a “Womblands” slogan, referencing the saga. In early April, Tsosi appeared to have created an OnlyFans with a price tag of $30 per month.

“This call out style benefits the creator and not the community,” she said. “It gives them a hero complex and allows them to make money off of others’ trauma.” 

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Call-out accounts can amplify important conversations

As controversial as some of these call-out accounts’ actions may be, where would they be without an audience to spectate? For Dr. Elena Maris, an assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago specializing in social media, the role of the viewers in situations like the Womblands saga and the reckoning of call-out accounts cannot be understated.

“People—and especially young people like typical audiences on TikTok—are quite savvy and are indeed asking very important questions about how various activists might be ‘branding’ themselves,” she said. “And of course many of these TikTok users are doing their own ‘calling out’ when they don’t feel claims are ‘authentic’ enough or truly activism, and those call-outs are also a contribution to public discourse.”

However, when it comes to the Womblands saga, Maris argued that there may be more to users’ call-outs of accounts like Hart’s and Tsosi’s than meets the eye. According to Maris, this “interpersonal situation between microcelebrities taking place on a very public stage” can be “useful” for the average TikTok user because “these public dramas are a common way people work out their opinions about important topics.” 

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For instance, as Maris points out, the Womblands saga has led to people discussing and reconsidering their definition of sexual assault, consent, non-monogamy, and activism. According to Maris, this more nuanced understanding that comes from the discussion of these concepts can lead to “larger political consequences” that are much bigger than just Hart and Tsosi’s relationship. 

With these “call-out” creators previously being put on such a high pedestal, situations like this can also serve as a stark reminder that nobody is exempt from their own mistakes and flaws—even if they build a brand based on calling out everyone else’s. 

“As this case makes very clear, activists are only human,” Maris said. “For very public individuals, the lines between public and private blurs quickly—especially on social media.” 

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But is this inability to know where to draw a line really an excuse for how these creators have behaved over the past few weeks? Maris doubts it. 

“It is not the activism or social justice that many TikTok users are frustrated with here,” she said. “It’s the personal nature of these very public showings and often, concern that ‘drama’ might overshadow the very important issues that these types of accounts typically engage with.”


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*First Published: Apr 14, 2022, 6:00 am CDT