The Bridge: In a world where the algorithm is king, are young or otherwise vulnerable audiences finding themselves funneled toward hateful content? More and more users are seeing misogynistic, racist, or otherwise disturbing rhetoric in their feeds – which has even led to some disaffected youth becoming radicalized. Social Media Giants seem to be cracking the whip while ignoring the deeper problem. So what can a parent do to raise awareness and social responsibility in the face of such overwhelming forces?
Break Out the Banhammer
The story of Andrew Tate is a strange one, partially because it’s ongoing, and partially because there’s only one side of it being told online anymore.
The controversial figure, known for his impossibly misogynistic internet persona and goofy online “Cash School” (which was apparently designed to bilk impressionable young men out of 50 bucks apiece). He was banned from Twitter back in 2017, before it was cool. Now he’s been deplatformed from Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube – essentially whittling down the places he can speak online to nothing. He’s a persona non grata both on the internet and off – he moved to Romania to take advantage of their lax prosecution laws, according to Tate himself.
While the official bans handed down were for “Violating policies”, it highlights a twofold problem with the centralized world of social media: who gets banned and why, and who is targeted by “hurtful” content in the first place?
Technically, Tate didn’t break any laws in his online rantings. Sure, his cringey attempts at solidifying his role as “King of Toxic Masculinity” were the tasteless rantings of a practiced edgelord. But is this behavior grounds for total erasure from the internet?
Looking for Blame in All the Wrong Places
As long as young people have access to a browser, they will be steered toward questionable content. Just like not every kid that watched Jackass was inspired to start jumping off roofs, not every young man will glom onto the rhetorical preachings of the likes of Andrew Tate. Remember when Catcher in the Rye inspired the murders of John Lennon and Rebecca Schaeffer? A seemingly unrelated piece of fiction in the wrong hands created killers.
The difference is that now, these platforms that are quick to permaban are actually funneling their users toward this “harmful” content, and using the deplatforming tactic as a form of damage control. It’s risky business, especially in the realm of free speech. In America, at least, citizens have the right to express themselves freely and openly as long as there is no direct call for violent action. In Tate’s case, he was banned for being icky and crass.
Tate’s experience against the banhammer is unique, in that he was pretty quickly barred from all online spaces, his reposted videos on other channels were also scrubbed, and it seems that anyone even peripherally involved with him is also under fire. He was effectively nuked from the internet for having a wildly outdated, almost comically hypermasculine approach.
So who’s next? What unpopular opinion will be on the chopping block tomorrow? Who will Twitter ban, or TikTok delete from their platform altogether?
And will these platforms acknowledge their own roles in steering young people in the direction of the opinions they later deem too inappropriate to view? It’s no secret that the algorithm favors controversy – people are likelier to click and watch things that infuriate them. It’s been this way forever. It’s apocryphal, but there’s a hilarious (and telling) exchange in Howard Stern’s Private Parts about the average listener to his show. People who love him tune in for an hour and twenty minutes, and people who hate him listen for almost twice as long.
Rage bait, deliberate controversy, and provocateurism online is not the problem in itself. They’re part of the puzzle, along with responsibility of the platforms to enforce the rules equally. The only real solution for our kids trying to navigate the space is to not do so blindly, without thinking of the big picture. Otherwise we’re all just the Dutch boy with his finger in the dam, holding off a catastrophe until it’s far too late.