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“We have to do it:” Meet the Texas teenager who helped sabotage an anti-abortion betting line

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Last week, when an anti-abortion group created a “pro-life whistleblower” website encouraging people to anonymously report violations of Texas’ new six-week abortion ban, a group of politically active Texans noticed a potentially fatal mistake.

“They’re trying to use the internet to get revenge on people who grew up on the internet,” said Olivia Julianna, an 18-year-old student and activist from Sugarland who leads a group called Gen Z For Change . “The group was formerly known as” TikTok for Biden “.

Olivia, who only has her first and middle names on social media for security reasons, said the goal was clear: “This website, if we can somehow mess with them, if we can stop even a woman from filing a lawsuit to raise. “filed against them or even wasting a second of their time, we have to do it.”

The tip site should help enforce Senate 8 Law, which went into effect earlier this month, which bans abortions after six weeks of gestation, before most women know they are pregnant.

The law has so far avoided being blocked by the courts because the government does not enforce it. Instead, enforcement is in the hands of any private individual who wishes to sue an abortion provider or others who “help or assist” someone with an illegal abortion, with a possible reward of at least $ 10,000 for each successful lawsuit.

Olivia was one of several young left-wing activists who immediately used social media to sabotage the site by flooding it with false reports and other information – some suggested anti-government proposals. Greg Abbott sayings. Others recommended bogus answers or nonsense.

You and other members of Gen Z For Change – Generation Z is usually defined as those who are now 18 to 24 years old – got to work quickly.

“It would be really, really bad and morally wrong for all of you to go to ProLifeWhistleblower.com and send an anonymous tip that is fake,” Julianna told her 137,000+ followers sarcastically in a video she posted on August 23 published on TikTok. “It would be even worse if your anonymous tip was about Greg Abbott.”

Another popular content creator and assistant director of Gen Z for Change, Victoria Hammett, 22, saw her video and thought it was “absolutely brilliant” and encouraged her followers to do the same.

“Wouldn’t it be so bad if we sent in some fake tips and crashed the site?” She said in a TikTok that was liked over 240,000 times.

Olivia said she was inspired by a similar campaign launched by TikTokers in June 2020 when users, including many teenagers, rallied for former President Donald Trump by falsely requesting thousands of tickets. Despite more than a million registrations, the turnout of around 6,200 was well below expectations, which the activists recorded as a success.

“I’ve seen more organization and passion from young people in the past two years than from adults in my entire life,” said Olivia, whose social media content focuses on Texas and national politics. “I am 18 years old, have 120,000 followers on TikTok and have millions and millions of views. I have real politicians who follow me on social media platforms. They use us in their campaigns; They use us to market young people and get them excited about voting. “

Other heavy users of social media had the same idea practically at the same time, and soon fake tips flooded the tip site launched by Texas Right to Life.

Some saboteurs used programming skills to take the bogus complaint idea even further by creating scripts that repeatedly submit reports with random information.

Olivia said she originally heard about the fake complaint idea from her friend Kolleen Whitford, a 32-year-old music sponsorship account director who tweeted about Texas politics.

The speed of the movement shows the power Generation Z can have to postpone larger political talks, Whitford said. “Gen Z really helped spark fires, and not only Gen Z agreed with them.”

Immediate results

TikTok For Biden, which launched in October 2020 and later formally partnered with the Biden campaign, consisted of more than 300 creators with a combined following of over 150 million people, said 17-year-old executive director Aidan Kohn-Murphy, the co-founded the group.

“Our work during the election was just the beginning because our goal was not to choose Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, but to use our platform to create some kind of social change,” said Kohn-Murphy.

The group has now grown to around 500 YouTubers with a fan base of over 400 million people.

“We knew TikTok was the most effective way to reach young people quickly,” said Kohn-Murphy. “The TikTok algorithm works like no other app because you can post something and your followers can post something, go to bed and wake up in the morning and it has 10 million views. That can happen on TikTok, which really can’t happen on Instagram or Twitter. “

Although about a third of the group’s members are under 18 and unable to vote, that doesn’t prevent them from taking any action they can to advance progressive causes, he said.

Gen Z for Change caught the attention of former Senator Wendy Davis, best known for her 13-hour filibuster of an anti-abortion law in 2013. Davis now runs a nonprofit, Deeds Not Words, which seeks to cultivate the next generation of young business leaders.

“I think it’s such a smart and wonderfully appropriate way for young people to exercise their power,” Davis said in an interview on Tuesday.

A 2021 poll by Pew Research found that 67 percent of adults under 30 believe that abortion should be legal in all or most of the cases.

Given that they grew up on the internet and social media, it’s no wonder their activism happens online, said Amanda E. Scott, a senior lecturer in English at Texas State University, who deals with generation gaps in the world Methods of engagement.

“Young people generally have a more demanding relationship with communication skills,” said Scott. “You have it under control in surprising and nuanced ways. In the last three years in particular, they seem to have been able to break through the artificiality of political ingratiation – or in some cases even more radically disrupt it. “

GoDaddy resigns

The Texas Right to Life whistleblower website is currently down. Instead, it will be redirected to the organization’s main website while the group searches for a new hosting and domain service, spokeswoman Kimberlyn Schwartz said. The later new website will have “new security protocols to protect our users,” she said.

On Friday, GoDaddy, the site’s former internet hosting service, ended its relationship with Texas Right to Life and bowed to pressure and abuse reports from activists. The company said it did so because the group violated their Terms of Use, which prohibits the collection of personal information without someone else’s written consent.

“I think the abortion advocates see the website as a symbol of the law and are trying to deactivate the website because they cannot repeal the law,” Schwartz said. “You cannot prevent us from saving around 100 premature babies every day. So they try to cancel us, but it doesn’t work. “

Schwartz added that the scripts that send multiple hoaxes to the site could be prosecuted as a crime.

Younger generations might be turning left altogether, but Schwartz said on the subject of abortion, they believe they are turning right.

“We have a vibrant movement of young people on the side of life,” she said. “We grew up with sonograms and hearing the heartbeat and being able to see and know about this life in very real time … That’s why younger people become more hostile to life.”

However, it doesn’t matter to Olivia that the wrong reports can’t really change the policy. Instead, it is about the bigger message, she said.

“I’m a fourth generation Texan. I’ve lived here all my life. I’m also a Mexican American, ”she said. “Me and all the other women and immigrants, Mexican Americans and people of color and Gen Z in Texas will not stop until these people who keep trying to take our autonomy and our rights away from us are no longer in office.”

“We grew up with Divergent and Hunger Games and all of those things,” Julianna said, referring to the dystopian books and films. “You taught us to fight for what we believe in. To stand up for what we believe is right. We do that now. “

taylor.goldenstein@chron.com

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