Following the arrest of influencer Andrew Tate in Romania on suspicion of human trafficking and rape, social media was inundated with memes and misinformation from both critics and supporters.
Tate, 36, has over 10 million followers on multiple platforms and has become a polarising figure on Twitch and YouTube due to his extreme misogynistic statements. As of August 2022, videos of him on TikTok had been viewed over 12 billion times.
Romanian law enforcement stated in a news release about Tate’s arrest that Tate and his brother, Tristan, along with two Romanian citizens, recruited women by “misrepresenting their intention” to have a romantic relationship, then moved and housed them in Romania. According to authorities, the women were then forced to create pornographic content for the group to sell online.
According to the news release, Romanian authorities have made contact with six alleged victims.
Tate has denied the charges.
The charges stem from a previously publicised Romanian government investigation into Tate, as well as Tate’s own statements about his business.
Tate claimed on a now-deleted page of his website that he had become a “multi-millionaire” through his “webcam studio” in Romania. The Wayback Machine at the Internet Archive has a copy of the website page.
“My job was to meet a girl, go on a few dates with her, sleep with her, test if she’s quality, get her to fall in love with me to the point where she’d do anything I said, and then get her on webcam so we could become rich together,” according to the website. Tate’s lawyer did not respond to a request for comment on his website description.
Despite the nature of the allegations and Tate’s history of making misogynistic statements, news of Tate’s arrest has inspired a slew of defenders of the influencer, who have used misinformation and conspiracy theories to call the charges brought against Tate into question. The news has also sparked a wave of memes mocking the incident, some of which are purely speculative.
The most pervasive piece of viral speculation in the aftermath of Tate’s arrest was that Romania’s anti-organized crime agency, DIICOT, was able to locate the divisive figure thanks to a video Tate posted in which Romanian pizza boxes are displayed.
Tate made the pizza box video during a feud with Greta Thunberg, a teenage climate activist.
Tate tweeted at Thunberg on Tuesday, referring to his “33 cars” and their “enormous emissions.”
On Wednesday, Thunberg responded by making a joke about Tate’s genitals. Tate responded to Thunberg by tweeting the video with the pizza boxes.
Following Tate’s arrest, social media users speculated that the pizza boxes in the video played a role in locating Tate.
However, Ramona Bolla, a DIICOT spokesperson, denied that the pizza boxes had anything to do with Tate’s arrest. According to Bolla, the rumour was “funny, but no.” According to Reuters, prosecutors said Tate and his brother had been under criminal investigation since April, when police searched Tate’s Bucharest mansion in connection with human trafficking allegations.
Nonetheless, misinformation spread like wildfire on Twitter and became fodder for memes.
Some Twitter users resurfaced old footage of Tate and falsely claimed that he had been released, adding to the online confusion about the details of Tate’s case.
One video, which has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times on Twitter, depicts Tate in April 2022, after he was arrested and released two days later. One of the tweets stated incorrectly, “Andrew Tate was released Matrix attack failed.”
Another viral video showed a segment of a Tucker Carlson interview with Tate, falsely claiming that he had been released from jail. “ANDREW TATE and his brother were released. “NO CHARGES,” the tweet stated incorrectly.
On Friday, Tate’s Twitter account continued to post, including the tweet “The Matrix sent their agents,” which refers to Tate’s embrace of “red pill” culture, which refers to the film “The Matrix” and celebrates anti-progressive stances. Some Twitter users cited the tweets as possible proof that Tate had been released. Following Tate’s tweet, Twitter CEO Elon Musk shared a “Matrix” meme, which Tate’s account then shared. Tate’s Twitter account was restored by Elon Musk in November 2022. Tate was banned in August 2022 after tweeting that women bear “some responsibility” for being raped. Musk and Twitter did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
A lawyer for Tate told NBC News that, as of publication, a judge had remanded the Tate brothers in custody for 30 days, which meant they would either remain in custody or be granted bail. According to the lawyer, his clients have appealed the decision, and Tate maintains his innocence.
Right-wing influencers with millions of followers who have previously focused on human trafficking as an issue reacted to Tate’s arrest by comparing it to a perceived lack of action in other cases, such as Jeffrey Epstein, who died while awaiting trial on federal child sex trafficking charges and allegedly hosted a laundry list of high-profile individuals at his numerous properties. Some, including those who had recently defended or platformed Tate, pointed out that he had not yet been convicted.
“Human traffickers deserve the death penalty,” Mike Cernovich, who has 1.1 million followers, tweeted in September 2019 about visiting Tate in Romania and posting photos of them.
“False allegations have been used to bring down establishment critics,” Cernovich added in the tweet. Cernovich did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
“Whether Andrew Tate is guilty or not, they skipped the entire Jeffrey Epstein client list because he’s their enemy and the people on that list aren’t,” conservative YouTuber Blaire White tweeted, referring to the hypothetical list of Jeffrey Epstein’s clients.
White told NBC News, “If Andrew Tate is guilty of human trafficking, I believe he deserves the death penalty.”
Others shared an interview clip of Tate predicting his arrest while implying the circumstances surrounding his arrest were illegitimate.
“It is presumed innocent until proven guilty. The reverse is not true. “Wait and see is always the prudent course of action,” tweeted rapper Zuby Music, who has 1 million followers and conducted the interview alongside the clip. In September 2022, the rapper tweeted that he knows Tate but that he is not his “hero,” and he has frequently promoted Tate’s content. He did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
Twitch streamer Adin Ross, who’s repeatedly made appearances with Ross, tweeted asking President Joe Biden to “pardon” Tate and said “Donald trump woulda been on it already,” despite the arrest taking place in Romania.
Some Twitter users falsely claimed Tate was being targeted because he stated he had converted to Islam. Tate publicly declared his conversion to Islam in late October. “Pushback from within the community — especially from teachers and scholars — is critical because Tate’s popularity represents a broader trend of red pill culture taking hold among some Muslim men,” Yousra Samir wrote in Al-Jazeera.
While some defended Tate during his arrest, others used memes to celebrate, mock, or comment on Tate’s detention.
Many people on Twitter responded to Tate’s days-long Twitter feud with Thunberg by making jokes about the interaction and Tate’s arrest.
“It happened at long last. In response to the tweets and Tate’s arrest, one person tweeted, “Someone got ratioed so hard they got arrested,” referring to the ratio of comments to likes on a post.
Another simply wrote, “mother nature always wins,” with a photo of Thunberg standing over Tate’s grave.
Drew Afualo, a content creator with nearly 8 million followers, responded to the arrest with a one-minute video. Afualo stated in the video that she heard about Tate’s arrest.
Afualo laughed for the majority of the video, pausing briefly to say, “What a way to end the year. “Talk about ending on a high note.”