A few weeks ago, Gerod Roth was a relative unknown, except perhaps to his approximately 1,200 Facebook friends. But in a digital age dominated by snap decisions, Millennials and an insatiable appetite for attention and destruction, Roth has become a well-known pariah on the Internet.
Roth joined the ever-growing ranks of Internet infamy this week, losing his job after a racist Facebook thread attached to his Sept. 16 photo post went viral. The initial post was a photo of him with the 3-year-old son of an African-American colleague, and it sparked an ugly conversation that likened the child to a malnourished slave.
Having “gone dark” for a few days and scrubbing his social media accounts, Roth on Wednesday described himself as “a very nice guy” who has been maligned by the press and by social media.
He said his apparent involvement in the Facebook thread was the result of manipulated screenshots.
Sydney Shelton, the mother of the 3-year-old, named Cayden, was unmoved.
“I think it is all just an attempt to paint himself as the victim when the only victim is Cayden,” Shelton said. “It was Cayden they were talking about. Cayden will have to deal with this when he grows up and people Google him. (Roth) is not a victim.”
Although Roth posted the photo without comment, he eventually got in on the action, calling the child “feral.”
Roth said the “feral” comment was cut and pasted out of context in the doctored screenshot. He said it was actually a response to an unseen question about why there were children running around his workplace, and that the very first comment in the thread, also unseen, is an innocuous one about how “adorable” Cayden is, to which Roth responded innocuously.
Polaris Marketing Group, where Roth worked with Sydney Shelton, fired Roth on Sept. 29 for unrelated reasons. The company's president later issued a statement that he was “disgusted to learn” about the Facebook thread after Roth's termination.
Roth also worked at YourEDM, a website devoted to electronic dance music, which fired him over the post.
Now he is trying to tell his story. Roth even took a photo of himself with a banner reading “#HisnameisCayden,” the hashtag created by blogger Ife Johari to focus attention on Cayden and away from Roth.
Johari, who was one of the first to bring attention to the situation, said Roth has visited her Facebook page to “intimidate & threaten” her (which Roth denies) while offering apologies “filled with narcissism.”
“A real apology would’ve consisted of a private and public apology to Sydney and Cayden,” Johari said. “Shutting the (expletive) up and quietly going away to allow Sydney to heal in peace. But that’s not what is happening.”
Roth said his post last month, which Sydney Shelton did not know about, was innocent enough.
“I figured, ‘Cayden looks adorable. I’m just going to have it up a day or two days,’” Roth said. “I didn’t think anything of it.”
After posting the photo, several of his then roughly 1,200 Facebook friends — 80 percent of whom Roth said are professional acquaintances — started posting racist comments.
“It didn’t occur to me that that kind of character would come out in the people I associate with,” Roth said. “They joke a lot and push the boundaries with their jokes, but I didn’t expect that.”
Roth at one point commented back, asking the others to stop, he said.
But that comment never appeared on any of the posted screenshots of the conversations. The only comment from Roth shown was when he called Cayden “feral.”
Another widely circulated screenshot showed what appeared to be a private Facebook Messenger conversation in which someone with Roth’s Facebook avatar explained why and how Cayden was “feral” after another user asked, “Why is he feral though?”
But Roth said that conversation involved someone using a fake account, pretending to be him and probably having a conversation with themselves. He said he’s found at least 10 fake profiles of himself.
He said not removing the initial post that eventually cost him a job was “the biggest regret I have.”
Roth also said he sent Shelton “a long-winded and apologetic email” last week and sent her another one on Sunday, to say that if or when she was ready to forgive him to please contact him, because he would like to make things right.
Shelton said she has only received one email from Roth.
“And I don’t consider it an apology. I shared it with my mother and she didn’t even see it,” Shelton said. “What he did in the email is the same thing he is doing now, making himself the victim. Personally, I have nothing to say to him.”
Adam Carlson contributed to this story