By Wednesday morning, Oprah Winfrey was trending on Twitter because of a horrible rumor that reportedly stemmed from one tweet. The rumor snowballed into a Twitter storm of dangerous narratives that linked the coronavirus to child trafficking and pedophilia. Things got so bad that Oprah herself had to hop on social media just to address the situation.
According to Twitter users, the story began with a social media user by the name of Gary Sumpter. In an extremely drawn out story that began with “What if I told you???” Sumpter made a long list of serious accusations including “Tom Hanks was arrested 48 hours ago for pedophilia and he is currently being kept in a hotel room in Australia, refusing to fly back to the USA.”
Tom Hanks recently announced that he tested positive for the coronavirus, along with his wife, and they’re currently self-isolating. His latest Instagram post reads, “No fever but the blahs. Folding the laundry and doing the dishes leads to a nap on the couch. Bad news: My wife @ritawilson has won 6 straight hands of Gin Rummy and leads by 201 points.”
Despite such posts, the Sumpter character continued to make accusations of pedophilia linking it to coronavirus-related news such as airport shutdowns. One of the biggest accusations came when he listed Oprah, Joe Biden, Ellen DeGeneres and other big-time celebrities as being connected to a sex trafficking ring involving Jeffrey Epstein.
He even brought up Harvey Weinstein, who was recently sentenced to 23 years in prison for the third degree rape and criminal sexual act of two separate women.
“Convicted Hollywood rapist Harvey Weinstein agreed to a deal in exchange for his testimony against hundreds of top Hollywood celebrities and their involvement in the drug business, pedophilia, and child trafficking,” wrote Sumpter. “He provided testimonies against some of the biggest and most powerful names, including Prince Andrew of the U.K., former president Bill Clinton, former vice president Joe Biden, Tom Hanks, Oprah, Ellen DeGeneres, Quentin Tarantino, Charlie Sheen, Bob Saget, Kevin Spacey, John Travolta, Steven Spielberg, Podesta, NXIVM and PIZZAGATE sex trafficking clubs, and hundreds more who all were directly involved with Jeffrey Epstein.”
Out of all the people (mostly white men), that Sumpter listed in his accusations, much of social media seemed to zero in on Oprah, playing into already held beliefs that she was aware of Weinstein’s sexual abuse.
This is a narrative that wasn’t just upheld by everyday Twitter users or Twitter bots, but also by high-profile men such as Snoop Dogg and 50 Cent.
Eventually, the Oprah sex trafficking rumor snowballed so much that people were posting old clips of her that were taken completely out of context.
For example, after the controversial documentary “Leaving Neverland” was released last year, Oprah hosted an HBO special called “After Neverland” where she interviewed Michael Jackson‘s alleged sexual abuse victims Wade Robson and James Safechuck. The special featured a room packed with child sexual abuse victims, including Oprah, who says she was raped at 9 years old.
The space was meant for victims and survivors to unpack their trauma and explain the nuances of how child sexual abuse happens. “This moment transcends Michael Jackson,” Oprah said during the special. “It is much bigger than any one person. This is a moment in time that allows us to see this societal corruption. It’s like a scourge on humanity.”
Clearly, Winfrey is taking a firm stance against child sexual abuse.
Yet, with the ammunition of a single conspiracy tweet, people took clips from the special out of context to make it seem like Oprah was defending child sexual abuse. In one explicit clip from the special, Oprah says:
“You’re seven years old and someone is stroking your penis. It feels good. Even though you don’t have a name for what that is, it feels good. And when I said this years ago, people were like you’re crazy cause everyone wants to believe it’s like sexual assault and you’re being thrown up against the wall and you’re being raped, and I have said for years if the abuser is any good, you won’t even know it’s happened.”
In this instance, Oprah is explaining how kids can be manipulated into abuse, yet one Twitter user flipped it by writing, “The fact that #Oprah is saying this shows on her part a justification for actions that are unacceptable from an adult towards a child.”
In addition to the clip, photos of Oprah with Weinstein are also unfairly taken out of context, considering they capture a few moments and interactions with the two. In a 2018 podcast interview with actress Gwyneth Paltrow, Oprah explained that it actually wasn’t all smiles and butterflies with Weinstein. “What I knew about Harvey was that Harvey was a bully,” she said. “And that if Harvey’s on the phone, you go ‘God, you don’t want to take the call,’ because you’re going to get bullied in some way.”
Oprah also reiterated that she wasn’t aware of Weinstein’s sexual abuse.
“Was I friendly with Harvey? Yes, I was friendly with Harvey. Was I in association with Harvey for the ‘Butler’ movie? Yes, but of course I didn’t know any of this was going on,” Winfrey said.
Along with vehemently denying that she’s known about Weinstein’s sexual abuse, Oprah has also interviewed one of his alleged victims, Salma Hayek, which debunks any myths that she came after Michael Jackson by interviewing his alleged victims but not Weinstein.
When the rumors of Oprah’s sex trafficking arrest reached their peak on Twitter, the 66-year-old CEO, once again, had to set the record straight.
“Just got a phone call that my name is trending,” she wrote on Twitter. “And being trolled for some awful FAKE thing. It’s NOT TRUE. Haven’t been raided, or arrested. Just sanitizing and self distancing with the rest of the world. Stay safe everybody.”
Even friends like director Ava DuVernay had to step up and debunk the accusations against Oprah.
“Trolls + bots began this disgusting rumor,” wrote DuVernay. “Mean-spirited minds kept it going. #Oprah has worked for decades on behalf of others. Given hundreds of millions to individuals + causes in need. Shared her own abuse as a child to help folks heal. Shame on all who participated in this.”
The fact that all of this supposedly stemmed from one conspiracy tweet proves that folks aren’t willing to give Oprah the benefit of the doubt, even when she’s accused within the company of powerful white men.
Despite Oprah’s long history of speaking out against child sexual abuse, people will still link her to a child trafficking ring with little evidence and in the age of Twitter bots.
Meanwhile, people are fully prepared to defend powerful Black men like Bill Cosby with conspiracy theories, yet they won’t defend a powerful Black woman like Oprah, who has zero accusations from sexual assault victims. Even when Oprah wants to have the conversation around sexual abuse, she’s still demonized.
Some scary times in 2020.
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