Section: 3.2 Technology and online platforms

Algorithms fuel the rise of misogynistic influencers

Algorithms fuel the rise of misogynistic influencers

Online platforms, through their algorithms, can amplify misogynistic and extremist content to their users, often not distinguishing between adult and underage users in content delivery.

Siva Vaidhyanathan, a media scholar at the University of Virginia, pointed out that the profit-driven structure of online platforms, combined with how users interact on them, results in societal issues being a built-in problem, not just an accidental side effect.1 Algorithms can boost the visibility and reach of high-profile online figures, and the significant influence they have on young audiences.

Research shows that young men and boys are increasingly exposed to and influenced by online content that blends hegemonic masculinity with derogatory views of women and girls. This content appeals to young males by tying wealth and status to dominant masculine identity and traditional gender roles, striking a chord with boys navigating their identities in a society where traditional male roles are evolving.

A well-known example is Andrew Tate, a former kickboxer and television celebrity who has amassed a huge online following of admiring fans.2 According to a 2023 poll by HOPE not hate,3 94% of young people polled in the UK had heard of Andrew Tate and 67% had watched, listened to or read content from him. While only 28% of all respondents had positive views of Tate, this number rose amongst male respondents to 47%, and to 52% of 16 to 17-year-old males. A similar trend was observed in Australia. A 2023 survey4 of 1,374 adolescent boys from different Australian schools, undertaken by Man Cave, found that 35% of young men surveyed found Tate relatable and 92% knew who he was.

The Center for Countering Digital Hate reports that Tate’s videos perpetuate misogynistic and sexist ideas, including the notion that women should be confined to traditional gender roles, and the justification of violence against women.5 His supporters share his videos and content as a way of attracting attention and amplifying his messages.4 TikTok posts featuring Tate’s name were viewed more than 13 billion times and his own Instagram amassed more than 4 million followers before both were suspended.6,7 A group of researchers who examined his content on the fringe platform Rumble observed that his deplatforming might have led to a ‘Streisand effect’, resulting in an increase in his level of support after his accounts were banned on mainstream social media platforms.8

What is.......?

...hegemonic masculinity?

Hegemonic masculinity refers to the practice of gender in a manner that legitimises patriarchal authority, thereby reinforcing male dominance and female subordination. While the expression of hegemonic masculinity can vary across different cultures and eras, a consistent feature is the use of implicit or explicit threats of violence against women, aimed at reinforcing the project of legitimising patriarchy.

...toxic masculinity?

Toxic masculinity is defined by a rigid adherence to traditional masculine roles that restrict the range of emotions boys and men are allowed to express, often discouraging vulnerability while valorising emotions such as anger. Toxic masculinity perpetuates a narrow and harmful view of what it means to be masculine, encouraging behaviours that can lead to gender discrimination, violence, mental health issues, and the suppression of emotions in men. This concept suggests that certain cultural expectations of masculinity are toxic to the social fabric and individual wellbeing, contributing to a wide range of societal and personal problems.

...the ‘Streisand effect’?

The ‘Streisand effect’ refers to the phenomenon where attempting to hide, remove, or censor information actually leads to increased public exposure of that information. This counterintuitive outcome is named after Barbra Streisand, the American singer and actress, whose 2003 efforts to suppress the publication of an aerial photo of her Malibu home, intended to document coastal erosion, inadvertently drew far greater attention to the photo. Another example is President Jacob Zuma’s failed efforts to ban a critical book of his regime, which instead boosted its sales. This effect is rooted in psychological reactance, ‘a phenomenon where individuals become more inclined to disseminate and seek out information when they perceive an infringement on their freedom to access it.’

In the case of harmful and extremist content, not considering the ‘Streisand effect’ can lead to unintended consequences. Attempt to censor, limit or deplatform such content might inadvertently amplify its visibility. These actions often attract greater public interest and lead to wider dissemination, ironically defeating the purpose of reducing the visibility of this harmful content. This presents a challenge to efforts to mitigate the spread of harmful content online, as seen in cases like Andrew Tate, where his deplatforming increased support for him and his messages.

In her thesis on radicalisation, extremist ideologies and the rise of Andrew Tate, Megan Leeming examined the key themes in videos and interviews featuring Tate. Leeming found that Andrew Tate blends ‘hegemonic masculinity’ concepts with derogatory views on women.9 He ties his wealth and status to a dominant masculine identity, offering it as a communal goal for success and security. He also uses his sexual conquests as proof of his masculinity, reinforcing traditional masculine norms. His depiction of ‘hegemonic masculinity’ closely mirrors the concept of ‘alpha males’ within the .

Leeming highlights that messages about the importance of success and wealth particularly resonate with young boys grappling with their identity in a world where traditional male roles are evolving. Some boys feel singled out by the term ‘toxic masculinity’ and see Tate as a figure who validates their concerns, viewing him as evidence that men are under attack. His arrest may have amplified this sentiment.10,11

Exposure to extreme and violent misogynistic content online harms women and girls and can lead some young men and boys to seek out even more radical materials. This content holds the potential to radicalise vulnerable individuals.

Tate’s targeting of young men has had a direct negative impact on young women, with his views being echoed by young men and boys both on and offline. HOPE not hate3 warns that consuming Tate’s content can often lead young people to explore more extreme and harmful content.1213 A 2022 investigation by The Observer14 revealed that Tate also has an online platform called ‘Hustler University’, which claims to teach over 278,000 students as of February 2024. Researchers from Safer Schools NI (Northern Ireland) found that children as young as 13 were using this platform.15

According to numerous news reports, educators in various countries are reporting concerns about the negative impact of such harmful views on students and the increase in school-related misogynistic incidents, some involving very young boys. Concerns about Tate's influence on young males are echoed in countries like the UK, Australia, Romania and Northern Ireland.1617181920212223 Despite facing bans on platforms and being under house arrest in Romania in 2023 for alleged ties to human trafficking and organised crime, his influence persisted.15

The influence of Andrew Tate and his problematic content has raised concerns among parents and teachers in New Zealand,24 especially regarding its impact on young people in schools, as revealed by published documents by the Ministry of Education.2526 Parents and educators have raised concerns about the potential influence of his views on radicalising young people in New Zealand schools.27Teachers and education experts 242829 have observed the formation of "Andrew Tate fan clubs"30 in schools, where students watch his content during lunchtime.

Despite the absence of specific survey data from New Zealand, reports from educators, teachers, and parents provide anecdotal evidence that young people in New Zealand are likely facing similar challenges with exposure to harmful, misogynistic and extremist content online as observed in Australia and the UK.

In a Spinoff article31 written by two anonymous young female educators working at an all-boys secondary school in New Zealand, the teachers expressed their concerns about the increasing popularity of Andrew Tate's content,32 particularly among boys aged 12 to 14 years old. They observed that the boys were adopting Tate's victim-blaming views on sexual assault survivors, engaging in disturbing conversations about rape, and viewing him as a role model for success.21333

In Australia and the UK, reports303435 have emerged of rising misogyny and sexual harassment among boys as young as 10, which can be attributed to exposure to Tate's content. Surveys346 in those countries, as mentioned above, show a significant number of young people have heard of and engaged with Tate's content, with a notable increase in positive views among male respondents and older teens. Although there is no specific survey data from New Zealand the observations of educators, teachers, and parents 242729 suggest that the situation in New Zealand might not be that different.

Mitigating the harm resulting from the exposure to and availability of extreme misogynistic content online should be a priority for everyone involved in creating online spaces that are safe, positive, and inclusive for all, especially young people.

Further reading

Studies and articles: Algorithms fuel the rise of misogynistic influencers


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