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.”