The worrying trend of teenage boys being exposed to “toxic” misogynistic online content

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Open TikTok and what do you see?

A cooking video? A cat doing something funny? A storytime about how a woman married a man only to later realise he had two entire secret families living in Rosslare?

If you’re a woman, that may very well be the case. But if you’re a man – or in fact, a boy – the content you’re being served could be quite different.

According to a new study conducted by DCU’s Anti-Bullying Centre, boys are being “bombarded” with misogynist and anti-feminist videos on apps like TikTok and YouTube Shorts.

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Male supremacist content from the likes of Andrew Tate, as well as content from so-called ‘Manfluencers’ spouting masculinist rhetoric, were found not just to appear on the apps of boys but be actively amplified by the algorithm, just because those accounts had identified as male.

What’s more, is that this content appeared within just 23 minutes of scrolling. By the end of the experiment (after around two or three hours), the vast majority of the content being viewed was dubbed “toxic” across both apps.

These toxic videos included content related to male motivation, men’s mental health, and financial inspiration… topics that shouldn’t have anything to do with misogyny. And yet, they were being used as a vehicle to share this discourse across the ‘manosphere’ – and beyond.

The study was conducted by Professor Debbie Ging, Dr Catherine Baker and Dr Maja Andreasen, and tracked, recorded and coded the content recommended to 10 ‘sockpuppet’ accounts on 10 blank smartphones.

The results, said Dr Ging, have proven incredibly damaging for young boys and girls.

“The overwhelming presence of Andrew Tate content in our data set at a time when he was de-platformed means that social media companies must tackle harmful content in more sophisticated ways,” she said.

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“Ultimately, girls and women are the most severely impacted by these beliefs, but they are also damaging to the boys and men who consume them, especially in relation to mental wellbeing. The social media companies must come under increased pressure from the government to prioritise the safety and wellbeing of young people over profit.”

Irish society has gotten to a point where consent, healthy relationships, and domestic violence are being taught about in schools. Finally, we’ve reached a stage where the understanding around such issues is being prioritised at a young age.

But will this work be enough to combat the content being actively served to boys online? Or are we right to be concerned?

Researchers classed the report’s findings as ‘urgent’ and suggested further “content moderation, turning off recommender algorithms by default and cooperation with trusted flaggers to highlight illegal, harmful, and borderline content.”

They also stressed the need for teacher education and the teaching of “critical digital literacy skills” from a young age, to ensure that users are aware of how algorithms operate, and know that even though they might be seeing certain content, it doesn’t mean that everybody is… or that it’s accurate.


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