A concerted trolling campaign orchestrated by users of the far-right website 4chan “inundated” the support services of the Trevor Project, the anti-suicide crisis hotline for young LGBTQ people, on Tuesday.
Kevin Wong, a Trevor Project spokesperson, told BuzzFeed News that the fake pleas for help and other trolling led to increased wait times for people who genuinely needed assistance.
“They inundated our crisis services — the crisis services that are meant for LGBTQ young people to connect with a trained counselor so that they can talk through some of the stuff and get support through some of the things that they're finding challenging,” Wong said.
“We put up a banner on our website so that young people could expect that there would be delayed wait times,” Wong added. “It's appalling — that’s the word I would use — that anyone would want to stop someone from finding services to prevent them from attempting suicide.”
The campaign on 4chan’s /pol/ message board, which was first reported on Twitter by Media Matters senior researcher Alex Kaplan, expressly stated the objectives were, among other things, to “fuck up the queue so sodomites and fags commit suicide due to being unable to receieve assistance” and “waste as much of their resources as possible.”
Users were guided as to how to access the Trevor Project’s digital chat or text support services and to “make up some bullshit.”
In a section entitled “Reasons,” the person behind the campaign had called Trevor Project staff “sodomite groomers … who assist fag youth and normalize it with children.”
Wong said counselors were quick to flag an uptick in conversations that appeared to be from trolls, noting the issue internally for others to see. They subsequently found the relevant 4chan thread.
Wong said he believed this was the first time the Trevor Project had come under a concerted trolling attack from 4chan users. When the organization was targeted online as “groomers” by other far-right online actors in April, including the @LibsOfTikTok Twitter account, it did not lead to a dramatic increase in trolling, according to Wong.
The reference to “grooming,” or adults preying on children, has become a popular term in right-wing circles this year and has been used by some Republicans seeking to push an unfounded and anti-gay moral panic.
Earlier this month, Boston Children's Hospital was also targeted with misinformation spread by @LibsOfTikTok and other right-wing actors for its work providing gender-affirming care to transgender youth. The online smear campaign has led to death threats and bomb scares at the hospital.
Like many LGBTQ organizations, the Trevor Project has been vocal against the recent wave of bills across the country that are anti-LGTBQ, and anti-transgender specifically — advocacy that Wong said he suspected made the group a target.
“It's been something that we've seen an increase in. People have noticed us,” Wong said. “We've been fighting for young LGBTQ people for a while. So we're a little more visible now.”
He added, “It's kind of like bound to happen that 4chan folks turn their gaze to an organization like ours, an LGBTQ organization serving young people trying to protect them — literally trying to prevent suicide.”
Tuesday's trolling began around the time the conservative website National Review published a story alleging a “‘Pandora’s box’ of depravity” on an online forum hosted by Trevor Project where underage users and users ages 18–24 communicated about chest binders and used sexualized language.
Wong said that the article grossly mischaracterized the social networking site, TrevorSpace, which he said is subject to strict terms of service and content moderation, and which does not support private messaging.
Wong wouldn’t speculate whether the trolling was linked to the National Review story, but he said the nonprofit had been in touch with its legal counsel regarding the campaign.
“These people's intent was literally that more young people would kill themselves. How sad is that?” Wong said. “It actually makes me really angry.”