A secret group of mainly male French journalists have been accused of coordinating a sprawling, yearslong campaign of harassment abusing women writers, feminist activists, people of color, and LGBT people.
The group, Ligue du LOL, or LOL League, has been operating for about a decade. So far, three journalists have been suspended, one has resigned, and one has been fired since the accusations were made public online. People working at four of France's biggest news outlets have been implicated.
The LOL League started as a Facebook group in 2009 by journalist Vincent Glad, who now works at one of France's largest newspapers, Libération. The group operated as a shitposting space for people in French journalism and advertising who were popular on Twitter.
The current controversy started when Slate France journalist Thomas Messias tweeted cryptically last week about a "model reporter" who "used to have fun in a pack of feminist stalkers."
The existence of the LOL League has been a rumor within French media since its start, and many young journalists in France immediately understood Messias's tweet was about the group.
Messias's tweet was quoted by Libération journalist and LOL League member Alexandre Hervaud, who sarcastically called it a "brave subtweet" and said he wasn't sure whom Messias was talking about. Then another Twitter user, @IrisKV, asked Hervaud directly about harassing her. Her tweets were the first recent mention of LOL League. Everything seems to have kicked off from here.
Libération then published a piece on its fact-checking vertical investigating the size and influence of the group. The piece was titled "Has the LOL League really existed and harassed feminists on social networks?" and it has been widely criticized since going live last week. Glamour France called the piece "an aberration." Some believed the piece was downplaying the influence of the group.
“CheckNews feels that the critics against its text are unfair, since we were the first outlet in France to actually write about this group,” Jacques Pezet, a journalist for CheckNews told BuzzFeed News. "Of course, this appeared in the CheckNews page, which does a lot of fact-checking, but in no way, did we decide to see this investigation as a 'debunking' of a hoax or a fake news."
By Friday, the #ligueduLOL hashtag was trending throughout France.
Hundreds of testimonies from victims who say they were targeted by the group flooded Twitter all weekend. Slate France contributor Lucile Bellan accused them of years of systemic harassment that undermined her confidence as a journalist. A French marketing manager named Benjamin LeReilly wrote a Medium piece accusing them of anti-gay and anti-feminist harassment that started eight years ago and has gone on for years.
Journalist Melanie Wanga tweeted that she was chased off Twitter by the LOL League in 2013. She described an inner circle of LOL League members surrounded by "cool girls" in French media who protected them and helped them pretend to be liberal and progressive in public.
A blogger named Capucine Piot tweeted that typically when the LOL League targeted someone for harassment and intimidation, it would kick off a wave of abuse from Twitter users who weren't directly connected to the group.
One of the more serious accusations against the group was leveled by a videographer named Florence Porcel, who claims one of the LOL League members called her pretending to be the editor-in-chief of a "prominent" news program in France. The LOL League member interviewed her for a fake position and then posted the audio on Soundcloud.
David Doucet, the editor of Les Inrocks, a popular French cultural magazine, admitted that he had been the one behind the fake interview, writing in a statement that he had left the group six years ago and didn't understand at the time the extent of the trauma he had caused her.
Currently, the main outlets implicated are all liberal and left-leaning: Libération, Les Inrocks, Slate France, and Télérama. Glad, the founder of the LOL League, wrote in a statement on Twitter that the group was "a monster that he had lost control of" and apologized for his involvement. He was suspended this week from the magazine he's currently writing for. Doucet was also suspended from Les Inrocks as a precautionary measure.
Bellan, the Slate France contributor who has since come forward about her years of abuse by the LOL League, published a piece this week about her experience watching LOL League member Christophe Carron become the editor of Slate France in 2017.
Bellan in her piece writes that Carron becoming editor made her fear for the column she was working on at the time.
"Over the years, the LOL League has become a terrifying kind of hydra," she wrote. "If we decided to never collaborate with people who had been connected to all of this, it would have been easier to just change jobs."
This piece has been updated with a statement from Libération's fact-checking outlet, CheckNews.