WASHINGTON, D.C. – McCain Institute Senior Director for Preventing Targeted Violence Brette Steele spoke with CNN about defusing hateful rhetoric online as misogynistic influencers become increasingly popular among young men online.
Read excerpts from the article below.
Misogynistic influencers are trending right now. Defusing their message is a complex task
By AJ Willingham, CNN
September 8, 2022
(CNN) Andrew Tate, the professional fighter-turned media personality who earned the ire and admiration of millions with his viral rants about male dominance, female submission and wealth, is everywhere these days.
His ideas have already taken root in the minds of countless young men who see him as a role model of masculinity. Before it was taken down, his TikTok account racked up about 11.6 billion views. Social media spaces dedicated to teaching have featured accounts of students as young as middle schoolers parroting his diatribes and harassing female classmates. Rashes of sexual harassment in schools in the UK and Australia have also been blamed on Tate’s influence.
He’s not the only one, either. So-called male supremacist views have surged on TikTok and podcasting platforms, with personalities ranting about the rights of “high value” or “hypermasculine” men — those that they define as wealthy, confident, influential, sexually dominant and entitled to subservience from women.
The jumble of groups and philosophies that center around ideas of toxic masculinity is commonly referred to as the “manosphere.” Within lie incels (involuntary celibates), men’s rights activists, pick-up artists, and the content creators that spread these ideas to the masses. Brette Steele, senior director for Preventing Targeted Violence at the McCain Institute, says men usually flock to the manosphere because they are unhappy in some way and searching for a sense of belonging, and younger audiences are drawn in by a similar need.
“Youth are searching for that sense of belonging, that kind of grounding to explain what’s happening to them,” she tells CNN.
“In the last few years, more youth have had to turn to communities online. We’ve seen a degradation of in-person social skills, and in middle school, that’s when those social skills are first coming into play.”
Steele works with several teams that are exploring ways to curb misogynist content and prevent the violence and extremism that sometimes follows. One of her teams out of Arizona State University created curricula and lesson plans for fourth- and fifth-graders that help build social resilience at a critical age.
“We have to ask things like, when do youth actually develop the skill sets that can prevent some of these risk factors? When do they develop a positive sense of self-concept? When do they develop the ability to withstand rejection?”
Once young men have made contact with dangerous parts of the manosphere, Steele says redirection becomes a main strategy.
Diverting Hate, a project out of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, Equity and Justice, maintains a database of terms used in the manosphere. By programming against those words, they can target ads toward people engaging in dangerous conversations in online public spaces.
“The idea is to redirect people to more pro-social men’s organizations, and more positive representations of what masculinity could look like that are not violent or demeaning,” Steele says.
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