Figures like Andrew Tate can help spread misogyny. But they are amplifying, not causing, the problem.

Following an emergency meeting of the National Cabinet this week, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced a series of measures to address the issue of gender-based violence.

Among them are a program to help women leave abusive partners, an “age guarantee” test to prevent children from accessing pornography and other age-inappropriate materials, and a “counterinfluence” program to address extreme misogynistic content online.

The latter is a relatively new measure when it comes to curbing the problem of gender violence in Australia. According to Albanese:

specifically include a counterinfluence campaign in online spaces where violent and misogynistic content thrives, to directly challenge the material in the spaces that is being viewed.

Research shows that technology-enabled abuse is common and harmful. But what do we know about the specific impacts of being exposed to misogynistic content online? And is an online solution the best way to address the problem?

Attitudes and behaviors

According to the latest Personal Safety Survey:

  • 1 in 4 Australian women have experienced violence from an intimate partner or family member since age 15, compared to 1 in 8 men.
  • 1 in 5 women has suffered sexual violence since the age of 15, compared to 1 in 16 men
  • 1 in 5 women have suffered harassment since the age of 15, compared to 1 in 15 men.

These statistics, along with the tragic deaths of too many women at the hands of their intimate partners or former partners, demonstrate that addressing men’s violence against women (as well as other at-risk groups) must be a national priority and everyone’s responsibility. .

The causes of gender violence are complex and multifaceted and experts recognize that there is no single cause. A key factor is problematic attitudes, beliefs and norms. According to Our Watch, these include attitudes that tolerate violence against women, support for rigid gender roles, tolerance of disrespect and aggression towards women, and limitations placed on economic freedom and decision-making. Women’s.

In addition to attitudes, risk factors for gender violence may include adverse childhood experiences, prior exposure to family violence, alcohol or drug abuse, mental health problems, poverty, and unemployment.

Exposure to online content

There has long been debate about the impacts of viewing pornography, especially violent pornography. Recent Australian research found that the average age of first exposure to pornography is 13.2 years for boys and 14.1 years for girls.

In the United Kingdom, researchers found that 1 in 8 titles on major porn sites “describe acts that would fall within the most widely used political definition of sexual violence.” But they also recognize that the impacts of pornography on sexist attitudes and behaviors are still unclear.

Some experts warn against blaming pornography and suggest we should widen the net by examining problematic social attitudes toward sex, gender, and bodies. Discussions have focused on other parts of the Internet and, in particular, the “manosphere.”

A recent study focused on Australian schools found a resurgence of boys’ sexist behaviors toward female teachers and classmates. The authors argue that “manfluencers,” especially Andrew Tate, are the key drivers of this.

The Center to Counter Digital Hate identified more than 100 TikTok accounts that frequently promoted Tate’s content in 2022. These accounts had about 5.7 million followers and 250 million views. Some of the content included statements such as “women should take some degree of responsibility for rape” and “virgins are the only acceptable thing to marry.”

Following this week’s meeting, Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth said platforms have a role to play in combating the spread of harmful content:

They have a fundamental responsibility to step up and do more. The content that digital platforms deliver through algorithms and systems, particularly to young Australians, has an impact on reinforcing harmful and outdated gender norms.

Anthony Albanese was joined by Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth, Communications Minister Michelle Rowland and Commonwealth Domestic, Family and Sexual Violence Commissioner Micaela Cronin at a press conference.
AP/Dean Lewins

But a major concern is that the platforms themselves recommend this content to users. Algorithmic recommendation systems, like YouTube’s “up next” feature and TikTok’s “for you” page, are critical to increasing engagement and maximizing ad revenue. Influencers like Tate can generate millions of dollars in revenue from platforms. This can result in commercial interests being prioritized over user liability and safety.

We all have a role to play.

Details about the government’s proposed counter-influencers program have yet to be revealed. Albanese said the campaign

(…) aims to counter the corrosive influence of online content aimed at young adults that condones violence against women. It will raise awareness about the proliferation of misogynistic influencers and content and encourage conversations within families about the harmful impact of the material.

There is no quick fix to address the issue of gender-based violence, but respectful relationship education should be the priority. Our focus should be on implementing best practice measures to prevent violence from occurring both online and offline.

Research shows that respectful relationships training in schools and universities can create lasting changes in attitude and behavior. This training includes teaching people, especially men, how to deal with romantic rejection.

An example is Victoria’s Respectful Relationships educational program. This is a form of primary prevention that aims to integrate cultures of respect and gender equality in all schools.

Social networks are not the cause of men’s violence against women. The manosphere and its extreme misogyny “did not manifest spontaneously.” It is not new but a product of our society. It just happens that there is more visibility for these voices, which are now being amplified by technology.

Nor is it helpful to discuss the growth of Tate and his ilk without also considering the crisis of loneliness, which young people – and particularly young men – face disproportionately.

To achieve change, we must counter problematic attitudes and address gender inequality in everyday life.

We need better resources for parents and caregivers, and more research on perpetrators and supporters of violence against women. Important discussions can begin once we understand because Young people with problematic attitudes became like this.

If this article has raised concerns for you, or if you are concerned about someone you know, please call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit the eSafety Commissioner’s website for useful online safety resources. If you are in immediate danger, call 000.