Around Christmas Day, Karl Krause and Daan Colijn started receiving emails from their fans, telling them their pictures were being used to promote pedophilia in several viral posts on Twitter.
“They were outraged emails,” Krause said. “They were saying: ‘How can that be? You are not pro-pedophilia. I know that.’”
Krause and Colijn are gay travel bloggers who tell their followers of gay-friendly and LGBTQ-owned businesses and communities throughout the world. They had no idea their faces were being used to promote an idea they found abhorrent.
One of their pictures, which features Krause and Colijn kissing in front of a rainbow flag, had been stolen by a Twitter troll who went by the name “Alex,” an account that was created in December. The account then tweeted messages promoting pedophilia.
“It’s frustrating to see someone misusing our image for political purposes — basically supporting an argument against the LGBTQ community with our work,” Krause said.
The account successfully spread across Twitter the deliberately defamatory idea that pedophilia is an acceptable part of LGBTQ life. Over the last half-decade, that concept has become a staple of far-right internet trolls on websites like the fringe message board 4chan, and the troll’s message quickly gained internet traction.
Some far-right news websites wrote articles based on the tweet, including The Federalist Papers, which published a post with the headline, ”Resistance Member Says Pedophilia Is Sexual Orientation, Claims Bigotry.”
One tweet from the troll’s account, which used the handle @vaceyi, stated that “Pedophilia is a sexual orientation you bigots.” That tweet has drawn more than 16,000 replies and received attention on far-right parts of the internet, drawing scathing responses from right-wing commentator and former Major League Baseball pitcher Curt Schilling and “pizzagate” conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec, among others. They took the fake message seriously and used it to suggest that the LGBTQ community supports the sexual abuse of children.
“They are actually trying to argue that pedophiles are an ‘oppressed minority,’” Posobiec wrote on Twitter, attaching screenshots of @vaceyi’s tweets. “Many warned this day would come.”
Various efforts to tie the LGBTQ community to pedophilia have been linked back to 4chan, including the creation of a fake rainbow flag for Gay Pride Month that supposedly was designed to show acceptance of pedophilia. The flag, and a fake “LGBTP” acronym, were debunked by the fact-checking organization Snopes. In 2016, a 4chan post stated “if they want to demand that society accept their horses— identities, then it’s time we slip in one of our own” and implored users to “convince them pedos deserve rights too.”
Shortly after @vaceyi’s tweets went viral, one 4chan user posted Posobiec’s tweet mentioning the account, wondering if Posobiec knew that @vaceyi is a troll.
“Does [Posobiec] know he’s being trolled by you guys and just going with it to look good? Or does he think the person tweeting this is serious?” the user asked.