Romanian Cops Did Not Find Andrew Tate Because Of His Greta Thunberg Video
This is a lesson in media failure and misinformation.
(Update Friday, December 30): Romanian officials have now confirmed to the New York Times and Washington Post that the pizza box had nothing to do with it. “Speculation online centered on whether a distinctive pizza box featured in one of Mr. Tate’s tweets to Ms. Thunberg had helped lead the authorities to him, but Ramona Bolla, a spokeswoman for the Directorate for the Investigation of Organized Crime and Terrorism, told The New York Times on Friday that that was not the case.”)
Romanian authorities detained far-right misogynist internet troll Andrew Tate today on allegations related to sex trafficking.
Who is Andrew Tate? It doesn’t really matter. He’s a bad guy. He might be a bad guy who is innocent of these awful allegations since he hasn’t been convicted of anything, but he’s still one of those pick-up artist types who thinks date rape is a myth.
He used to be a kickboxer but then apparently transitioned into an “if you put yourself in a position to be raped, you must bare some responsibility" internet influencer role. This led to him getting kicked off all the reputable social networks a few years ago. Then a few weeks back Elon Musk did a general amnesty for banned Twitter accounts and he came back. He immediately started tweeting shit like this:
On Wednesday, he got into a Twitter fight with Greta Thunberg, the young European climate activist who had a viral moment a few years ago. Thunberg is not known for her sense of humor so when she dunked on Tate it went viral.
This brings us to today when Tate and his brother were taken into custody in Romania.
(I’m avoiding using the word “arrest” because it isn’t used in the primary Romanian news report on which all of the other American news stories are based. I don’t know anything about the Romanian judicial system but it does sound like he was arrested; he was brought out of his home in cuffs; but “detained” or “taken into custody” seem safest. I’m erring on the side of caution since this is a post about how American reporters got some Romanian news wrong.)
As if this weren’t already a nice little package of good versus evil for social media, this afternoon reports began to spread that Thunberg was actually instrumental in Tate’s detainment.
Yesterday, after Thunberg dunked on him on Twitter, Tate released a response video. In that video, there is a pizza box in the frame.
According to news reports in the United States, that pizza box was from a Romanian pizza joint and its presence in the video confirmed his location to Romanian authorities who had been waiting for a chance to catch him.
This is a social media goldmine. Bad dick head gets into fight with courageous teen climate hero, accidentally reveals location, ends up in prison.
“In a video rant he uploaded to Twitter,” the Beast wrote, “in which he smoked a cigar and tried to brush off the online spat, he unwittingly displayed a pizza box from a local pizza chain—alerting authorities looking for him to his presence in the country.”
Then a Twitter follower asked me why I believed that. And I somewhat rudely dismissed him.
His theory was that this was a plant by Thunberg’s PR team to make her look good.
That theory is dumb because it involves a pretty elaborate conspiracy.
But it did make me more curious about that element of the article and, though there is no conspiracy behind it, it is total bullshit.
No Romanian journalist reported that the cops found him because of a pizza box in a reply to Greta Thunberg.
But there are lots of stories in the US and Britain claiming that. Why? Well, they’re all basically citing each other. But if you dig through the citations you eventually come to the Daily Star which cites an American Twitter account.
“According to Alejandra Caraballo, a writer and clinical instructor posting on Twitter: “Romanian authorities needed proof that Andrew Tate was in the country so they reportedly used his social media posts.”
That Twitter account makes the claim.
Its source is a Romanian newspaper article that I linked to above.
It does not say that at all. At least not in the Google Translated English version.
What it says is:
Sources close to the investigation stated, for Gândul , that shortly after the completion of the computer expertise, the authorities waited for the right moment to catch the Tate brothers, who were always out of the country.
After seeing, including on social networks, that they were together in Romania, the DIICOT prosecutors mobilized the special troops of the Gendarmerie and descended, by force, on their villa in Pipera, but also on other addresses.
Unless Google is missing some Romanian language nuance, this sentence does not say that the police were tipped off by a social media post to his whereabouts, let alone that it was by his video with Greta Thunberg. It says they confirmed it in multiple ways at least some of which involved social media.
This makes sense if you think about it for five seconds. Andrew Tate owns a house in Romania. (It was searched earlier this year as part of a related investigation into sex trafficking.) Like other countries in the world, I imagine the Romanian police know how to check credit card purchases and flight records and train passenger manifests and they probably knew when Tate was in Romania.
But it does say that they also did use social media in some ways to confirm his location.
The Twitter account suggests that necessarily means they used the pizza box in the video to locate him. But he’s a prolific poster to social media. Just a few days ago he tweeted a video of….Romania.
Anyway, none of this makes Andrew Tate a good person. He’s a very bad person. If he is guilty of the heinous things he’s alleged to have done, he deserves to spend decades in a Romanian prison. And if he’s not guilty of those things, he’s still a terrible person who deserves to be shunned by the rest of society.
But I honestly couldn’t give a shit about Andrew Tate, a random schmuck I had never heard of until yesterday. He’s not an important character in the television show of the world which I watch. Maybe he is in other people’s. Probably is in his victims! But I wouldn’t bother writing this much about some random bad man from some other country who sounds like he’s getting what he deserves.
However, an important character in the TV show I do watch is the US media. I am prone to defending journalists when they fuck up because I’m a journalist, or at least I was, and I know how easy it is to fuck up. And I guess I still have some sympathy here because these writers were on a deadline and moving fast, but it doesn’t take a lot of work to see that this Greta angle, which is tantalizingly clicky, is bullshit. It took me 8 minutes or so on my iPad.
And like thousands of people online who read about this today, my initial instinct wasn’t to dig into it. It was to take the Daily Beast’s word for it. Only prompted by a follower with a conspiracy theory did I think to look further.
And that’s how misinformation spreads.
It’s not all nefarious. It’s not all disinformation.
It’s...something happens in Romania. And someone speculates some nonsense on Twitter that goes viral. And you don’t speak Romanian so you are limited in your ability to do as much due diligence as you want. And your boss is telling you “tick tock tick tock! Publish the post!” Maybe you hedge and cite “reports”. These reports don’t really exist but they might appear to exist if you look at your Twitter feed. Then you publish your post and you create a report. Even with the hedge, it makes some editor at some other publication yell “tick tock” even louder to their reporter, who feels more comfortable publishing their version because you already have done so. And so on and so on and so on. And everyone else? They already want to believe this because it is so perfect in an Aristotelian dramatic sense.
And by the time someone in Romania publishes a story about what actually happened, this rampant unfounded speculation has already been repeated endlessly on the other side of the world. And it will inspire memes and arguments. To be fluent in the culture war you’ll have to be fluent in the fiction. And one day when you’re old and aged and grey, it will come up somehow and you’ll google it and find out it wasn’t true and think “huh” and then as the light dims out and you shuffle off this mortal coil you’ll wonder “I wonder what else I was wrong about” and then you’ll die and your television show will end, but since you didn’t get an answer it will end the way no television show wants to end: with a cliffhanger.
Update, Friday December 30: This instinct was correct. The Romanian news report has been updated to make clear that they hadn’t yet been arrested. “The Bucharest court decides on Friday whether to arrest brothers Andrew and Tristan Tate.”
I initially included a second tweet here that showed him in some castle where he tweeted about how it was his castle. It turns out that was an old video from Italy he reposted. So, apologies. I got that wrong.