Following the arrest of influencer Andrew Tate in Romania on suspicion of human trafficking and rape, social media was flooded with memes and misinformation from people both condemning and defending him.
Tate, 36, has more than 10 million followers across platforms and has become a polarizing figure on Twitch and YouTube, thanks to his extreme misogynistic statements. Videos of him on TikTok have been viewed more than 12 billion times, as of August 2022.
In a news release about Tate’s arrest, Romanian law enforcement said 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. Law enforcement said the women were then forced to create pornographic content for the group to sell online.
Romanian authorities said in the news release they had been in contact with six alleged victims.
Tate has denied the allegations.
The charges follow a previously publicized investigation into Tate from Romanian authorities, and Tate’s own statements about his business.
On a since-deleted page on his website, Tate wrote that he had become a “multi-millionaire” through his “webcam studio” in Romania. The website page was archived on the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine.
“My job was to meet a girl, go on a few dates, sleep with her, test if she’s quality, get her to fall in love with me to where she’d do anything I say, and then get her on webcam so we could become rich together,” the website read. A lawyer for Tate didn’t respond to a request for comment about his website description.
Despite the nature of the allegations and Tate’s history of making misogynistic statements, the news of Tate’s arrest has inspired a slew of defenders of the influencer, who have employed misinformation and conspiracy theories to question the validity of the charges brought against Tate. The news has also inspired a wave of memes poking fun at the incident, some of which are based on pure speculation.
Perhaps the most ubiquitous piece of viral speculation spread in the wake of Tate’s arrest was that Romania’s anti-organized crime agency, DIICOT, was able to locate the divisive figure because of a video Tate posted in which Romanian pizza boxes are displayed.
Tate posted the pizza box video amid a feud with teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg.
On Tuesday, Tate tweeted at Thunberg, referring to his “33 cars” and their “enormous emissions.”
Thunberg responded on Wednesday, making a joke about Tate’s genitals. In response to Thunberg, Tate tweeted the video that included the pizza boxes.
After Tate’s arrest, posts quickly went viral, speculating that the pizza boxes in the video had been an important factor in locating Tate.
But Ramona Bolla, a spokesperson for DIICOT, refuted that the pizza boxes had anything to do with Tate’s arrest. Bolla told the Associated Press the rumor was “funny, but no.” Prosecutors said that Tate and his brother had been under criminal investigation since April, according to Reuters, when Tate’s Bucharest mansion was searched by police in connection with human trafficking allegations.
Still, that didn’t stop the misinformation from taking over Twitter and becoming fodder for memes.
Adding to the online confusion around details of Tate’s case, some Twitter users resurfaced old footage of Tate and falsely claimed that he had been released.
One clip that’s been viewed hundreds of thousands of times on Twitter shows Tate in April 2022 after he was taken into custody and released two days later. One of the tweets falsely stated “Andrew Tate got Released Matrix attack Failed.”
Another resurfaced clip with millions of views showed a segment of a Tucker Carlson interview with Tate, falsely purporting that he had been released from jail. “ANDREW TATE and his Brother have been Released. NO CHARGES,” the tweet falsely claimed.
Tate’s Twitter account continued to post on Friday, including the tweet “The Matrix sent their agents,” which refers to Tate’s embrace of “red pill” culture, which refers to the movie “The Matrix” and celebrates anti-progressive stances. Some Twitter users pointed to the tweets as potential evidence Tate had been released. After Tate’s tweet, Twitter CEO Elon Musk posted a “Matrix” meme, which was then shared by Tate’s account. In November 2022, Elon Musk restored Tate’s Twitter account. Tate was banned in August 2022 after posting tweets that included saying women bear “some responsibility” for being raped. Musk and Twitter didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
A lawyer representing Tate told NBC News that, as of publication, a judge had remanded the Tate brothers for 30 days, which would mean they would either stay in custody or be offered bail. The lawyer said his clients have contested the decision and Tate maintains his innocence.
Right-leaning influencers with millions of followers who have previously focused on human trafficking as an issue reacted to the news of Tate’s arrest by comparing it to a perceived lack of action in other cases, including that of Jeffrey Epstein, who died while awaiting trial on federal child sex trafficking charges and reportedly hosted a laundry list of high profile individuals at his numerous properties. Some, including those who had defended or platformed Tate in recent months, noted that Tate has not yet been convicted
“Human traffickers deserve the death penalty,” tweeted Mike Cernovich, who has 1.1 million followers and who tweeted about visiting Tate in Romania along with posting photos of them in September 2019.
“False allegations have been used to bring down critics of the establishment,” Cernovich added in the tweet. Cernovich didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Conservative YouTuber Blaire White tweeted, “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,” referring to the theoretical list of Jeffrey Epstein’s clients.
In a statement to NBC News, White said, “If Andrew Tate is guilty of human trafficking I believe he deserves a death sentence.”
Others posted or shared an interview clip of Tate predicting he would be arrested, while suggesting the circumstances around his arrest weren’t legitimate.
“It’s innocent until proven guilty. Not the other way around. Wait and see is always the wise move,” tweeted rapper Zuby Music, who has 1 million followers and conducted the interview along with the clip. The rapper tweeted in September 2022 that he knows Tate but that Tate isn’t his “hero” and he has frequently promoted Tate’s content. He didn’t immediately respond 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 baselessly suggested Tate was being targeted after he said he had converted to Islam. In late October, Tate publicly said he converted to Islam. In Al-Jazeera, Yousra Samir wrote, “pushback from within the community — and 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.”
While some defended Tate amid his arrest, others celebrated, mocked or commented on Tate’s detention through memes.
On Twitter, many responded to Tate’s days-old Twitter feud with Thunberg with jokes about the interaction and Tate’s arrest.
“It finally happened. Someone got ratioed so hard they got arrested,” one person tweeted in response to the tweets and Tate’s arrest, referring to the ratio of comments to likes on a post.
Another simply wrote, “mother nature always wins,” along with a photoshopped image of Thunberg standing over Tate’s grave.
Drew Afualo, a content creator with nearly 8 million followers, posted a roughly one-minute-long video in response to the arrest. In the video, Afualo said she saw the news about Tate’s arrest.
For the majority of the video, Afualo laughed, pausing briefly to say, “What a way to end the year. Talk about a high note.”