After posting an anti-LGBTQ rant about pronouns and invoking QAnon-related rhetoric, Twitter CEO Elon Musk has now sought to weaponize a well-established QAnon smear tactic to brand Twitter’s former head of trust and safety Yoel Roth as a pedophile. Right-wing media personalities were quick to run with the baseless claims, and Roth was forced to flee his home amid threats.
After the rollout of the fifth installment of the so-called “Twitter Files,” which specifically brought Roth’s actions into question over the decision to ban then-President Donald Trump from the platform, Musk sent two tweets that endorsed baseless claims that Roth had advocated for children to be exposed to sexually explicit online material.
Responding to a resurfaced 2010 tweet from Roth sharing an article discussing whether or not a legal adult who was still in high school could consent to sex with a teacher, Musk wrote, “This explains a lot.” He then posted a one-paragraph excerpt from Roth’s 2016 PhD dissertation on the gay social media dating app Grindr, incorrectly claiming that Roth’s dissertation advocated for “children” being able to access the app.
Musk’s recent attack against Roth mirror tactics commonly used by QAnon adherents, and it comes after Musk posted a known QAnon phrase and has spent his short tenure as the company's self-styled “Chief Twit” openly embracing far-right personalities on the platform. Musk’s actions and tweets have resulted in a meteoric rise in hate speech and harassment toward LGBTQ individuals on the platform, often at the hands of extremists who had previously been banned for spreading hateful rhetoric but were given verified status through Musk’s Twitter Blue feature.
Much of what’s happening on Twitter has coincided with the existing right-wing campaign to smear LGBTQ people and political enemies as “groomers,” which has led to a level of threats and harassment against Roth that forced him to flee his home.
Several prominent right-wing pundits have taken to prime-time news and Twitter to amplify the baseless conspiracy theories against Roth, with others still lobbing anti-LGBTQ attacks that stop short of a full-blown conspiracy theory. A Media Matters’ analysis also found that fringe outlets, including the notorious 4chan board /pol/, saw a significant rise in mentions of Roth’s name and anti-LGBTQ slurs.
- Fox News host Laura Ingraham, citing Roth’s past research and tweets, mentioned “pup kink” content and suggested he “wouldn’t see much harm in kids checking it out." She also accused him of standing “with the deviancy” when “the trans fanatics” are “preying on our children.” Ingraham also complained that Roth is “now playing the victim.”
- On Twitter, conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec shared a screenshot of Roth’s 12-year-old tweet about “whether high school students can ever meaningfully consent to sex with their teachers” and said: “If only there had been some warning signs about Yoel Roth.”
- One America News host Kara McKinney read an excerpt from Roth’s dissertation, saying, “New information is coming to light about Roth and his disturbing proclivities.” McKinney baselessly smeared Roth as being responsible for “child exploitation” on the platform, saying moderation and “the accommodation approach that Roth pioneered may be responsible for the proliferation of unwanted sexual advances, child exploitation, and lewd comments about sexual relationships between adults and children.” McKinney asked her guest, “Do you think it’s part of the overall movement on the left of really pushing down the age of consent lower and lower?” Mckinney’s guest, anti-LGBTQ figure James Lindsay, suggested that pedophilia is “part in parcel" for gay relationships and claimed that “it's quite clear that characters like Roth don't know what a healthy boundary” between minors and adults “looks like.”
- Discussing Roth’s dissertation, OAN host Addison Smith claimed that “this so-called LGBTQ comprehensive sex education” is just “cryptic language for … ‘we’re coming for your children; we’ll convert your children.’” Smith later asked his guest, Standing for Freedom Executive Director Ryan Helfenbein, why companies like Twitter “all so explicitly target young kids.” Helfenbein responded calling it “sex Marxism” trying to “deconstruct a child in order to groom them.” Helfenbein called it “demonic” and “straight from the pit of Hell.”
- After reading an excerpt of Roth’s dissertation, The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro misrepresented it and said Roth “is recommending Grindr make itself available to 16-17 year old kids so they can hook-up with each other, quote unquote, ‘safely.’”
- Right-wing comedian and radio host Tim Young replied to Roth’s 2010 tweet saying, “This tweet just clarified why the term 'groomer' was considered 'hate speech' on Twitter.”