“I love raping you.”
So reads an alleged text from Andrew Tate to a woman who filed a police report against the former kickboxer-turned-social media “influencer.” It was part of the evidence the woman said she turned over to British law enforcement when she alleged she was subject to rape and physical abuse by Tate. She also handed over an alleged voice message from Tate, where he can be heard taunting her with, “The more you didn’t like it, the more I enjoyed it. I f**king loved how much you hated it.”
The anonymous woman describes Tate “strangling me” while “screaming at me, ‘Take the f**king trousers off, b**ch.'”
Two other women who filed rape complaints with the U.K.’s Crown Protection Services have also stepped forward after Tate was arrested in Romania earlier this year on charges of rape, human trafficking and setting up a criminal gang. He’s been accused of using a standard pimping technique: luring women into what they think is a romantic relationship and then forcing them into sex work.
“He choked me so hard that my blood vessels had literally just burst,” another alleged victim told Vice.
“I remember the sheer panic. He kept saying, ‘I own you.’ That’s when he strangled me so hard that I lost consciousness,” another woman told Glamour UK.
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These women’s stories are difficult to read, as are the messages Tate allegedly sent them. But it’s important to foreground this painful material because that’s exactly what Tucker Carlson did not include in his supposed “reporting” on Tate. Carlson, who has decamped to Twitter after being fired by Fox News, posted a two-and-a-half-hour interview with Tate on Tuesday, which was immediately hyped by Elon Musk.
It goes without saying that this is evil. But it’s also a sign of desperation from both Musk and Carlson, who have bet big on Twitter, only to watch it swirl rapidly down the toilet. Buddying up with an alleged rapist who bragged openly about his violence against women is overtly misogynistic — and it’s also a pathetic plea for attention.
Neither Musk or Carlson will admit this is about glorifying a man who made videos saying things like, “It’s bang out the machete, boom in her face and grip her by the neck. Shut up, b**ch.” Championing vile people by pretending he’s “just asking questions” is a standard Carlson move, one he used regularly on Fox News to elevate the voices of anti-vaccine crusaders, Jan. 6 apologists and other assorted scum. He continues the game on Twitter by telling viewers to “make up your own mind.” If he actually wanted them to do that, he would tell them what Tate is alleged to have done and share the overwhelming evidence against him. Instead, Tate is just allowed to lie without any real pushback.
This “just asking questions” gambit, which anti-disinformation activists have long called “JAQing off,” isn’t just a way to promote lies under the guise of free inquiry. It’s also, crucially, a trolling strategy to trick innocent people into wasting their time on go-nowhere debates. We can see how this works with Carlson’s Tate interview. A feminist — or even just a person who thinks rape is bad — will express disgust at Carlson’s behavior. Carlson’s fans will gaslight the anti-rape person, claiming they don’t know what they’re talking about because they didn’t sit through more than two painful hours of this interview, implying that greater context offers greater nuance. (It doesn’t.)
We see exactly this nonsense play out in the replies to Ben Collins of NBC News.
Lots of right-wingers with blue checkmarks, trying to bait people with “debate me, bro” tactics:
“What’s sad about it?”
“How much of it did you watch?”
“Have you looked into this guy at all or are you just parroting msm?”
“I’m not a fan of Andrew Tate but I also think it’s good to hear his side of the story.”
This is known as “sealioning,” defined on Wikipedia as “a type of trolling or harassment that consists of pursuing people with relentless requests for evidence, often tangential or previously addressed, while maintaining a pretense of civility and sincerity.” If Collins had responded by pointing out the various ways Tate was lying, the debate bros would keep “asking questions,” refusing to acknowledge that those so-called questions have already been answered.
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This is all, and there’s no way to stress this enough, pure bad faith. These men — and they are almost always men — are not interested in “discussion” or “debate,” and neither is Carlson. We can know this for one simple reason: The stories of Tate’s many alleged victims are excluded. There is no “both sides” here. There are only Tate’s obvious lies, many of which have been thoroughly debunked by Rolling Stone.
For instance, Tate denies that he was pimping anyone and Carlson signs off on this view by scoffing, “How do you force someone to make TikTok videos?” As Nikki McCann Ramirez and Ej Dickson of Rolling Stone point out, Tate himself answered this question in a 2018 video: “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’d say, and then get her on webcam so we could become rich together.” This is a whitewashing spin on the “loverboy” method that prosecutors accuse Tate of using.
Sadly, disingenuous trolling is often far too successful at suckering people into engagement. As tech journalist Kara Swisher often observes, “enragement equals engagement.” Many people just can’t help arguing with people who make bad or false claims online, as memorialized by the famous “Duty Calls” xkcd cartoon.
Carlson and Musk are, of course, sincere misogynists. They and their fanboys don’t hide their admiration for Donald Trump, who, like Tate, is a credibly accused sexual predator who is on record bragging about sexual assault. There can be little doubt that they find it politically pleasing to exalt a man who, before he was arrested for sex trafficking, created videos explaining how to bully women into sex work. But more than likely there’s also a monetary motive here, one that reeks of desperation.
As much as Musk tries to conceal it, Twitter is in bad shape. Earlier this month, he set a limit on how many tweets unverified users could see every day, in an apparent bid to get more people to pay for Twitter’s failing blue-check service. Sensing blood in the water, Meta released its Twitter competitor, Threads, snagging over 100 million users in just a few days. Combined with the rise of alternative microblogging services, this is dramatically impacting Twitter’s traffic, as the CEO of Cloudflare noted on Sunday.
Linda Yaccarino, the CEO Musk hired to run Twitter, responded to these developments with a pathetic “clap harder” tweet.
The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer noted, from his new perch at the Twitter competitor Bluesky, “They made it very clear Twitter was a nazi bar and now they’re terrified that people don’t want to hang out there anymore.”
That helps explain why this effort to leverage an accused rapist’s infamy to drive traffic to Twitter is likely to backfire on Musk and Carlson. “Enragement equals engagement” is a true enough, but only within limits. To keep people on a social media network, there has to be some balance between infuriating content and pleasing content. Most people don’t log on because they want to feel angry or afraid. They open the apps hoping for cat pictures and laughter, and may then get sucked in by outrage bait.
But nobody wants all outrage all the time. Most people will get exhausted by that and log off. If the stuff they encounter is simply too vile, they get grossed out and walk away entirely. The pre-Musk leaders at Twitter understood that it had to be a mix, and that most users had hard limits on what they could tolerate. This is why the various far-right alternatives to Twitter services have generally done poorly. You have to mix some good with the bad, or people leave. On “old” Twitter, there were at least some efforts to keep the very worst content out of people’s feeds, with the understanding that if someone saw seriously traumatizing material, like animal torture or rape, they were likely to log off and never return.
Elon Musk simply doesn’t understand these nuances of psychology. He and Carlson just want to rub everyone’s noses in the transparently false excuses of an alleged rapist. That’s well past “baiting people into argument” content. It’s just “ew, turn it off” stuff.
There is, of course, one group of people that’s way into this laundry job for Andrew Tate: The pitiful man-children of the internet, whether “incel” or just incel-adjacent, who want to blame their own failures as human beings on women. Those dudes were certainly all over Musk and Carlson’s reply feed, stroking their chins about how “interesting” Tate is, an opinion that could only be sincerely held by someone who has never read a book or had a real conversation with another human. No doubt the number of man-children online is much too large, from a humanity-based perspective. But their numbers aren’t anywhere near large enough when it comes to Musk’s desire to monetize their dysfunction, at least not at the levels needed to make his $44 billion purchase of Twitter pay off.