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A Review of Harmful Content Online

2022-09-27T12:10:00+01:00

Last Updated on 27th September 2022

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It is not difficult to imagine harmful or abusive behaviours being present on social media. What can be challenging to deal with is the presence of popular online personalities or influencers who become well-known and even famous for exhibiting this behaviour over online platforms. This is especially concerning when children and young people begin to view this harmful content online.

Our online safety experts have recently received reports of children as young as 11 quoting online personality Andrew Tate at school, even resulting in acts of violence towards female peers. We have taken a closer look at who Tate is, as well as the behaviours he encourages.

However, we know that this represents a larger issue in our world (both online and offline) in how harmful behaviour like misogyny, violence against women and minorities, and sexual misconduct is dealt with and portrayed online. To help parents, carers, and safeguarding professionals approach these issues in their communities, we have included information and advice.

Discretion advised: This article mentions violent behaviours and sexual attacks, which may be triggering for some readers.

Who is Andrew Tate?

Andrew Tate is an American-British former professional kickboxer turned internet personality. He is a self-described ‘success coach’ and has a subscription-based online marketing programme called ‘Hustler’s University’ with over 100,000 subscribers. Tate has recently seen a rise in online notoriety due to a string of controversial comments and behaviours, such as:

  • Saying that rape victims put themselves “in a position to be raped” and “must bear some responsibility”, claiming most do this for advancement in ‘opportunity’.
  • Leaving the country amid rape allegations, suggesting it was ‘easier to evade charges’ and that it was ‘probably 40% of the reason’ he moved to Romania.
  • Claiming mental illness makes people ‘weak’ and that depression ‘isn’t real’.
  • Promoting gendered violence and misogyny on his podcast and posts about relationships (e.g. “It’s bang out the machete, boom in her face, and grip her by the neck…”).

These behaviours and more have led to his accounts being removed from social media platforms like TikTok, Facebook, and Instagram for violating policies on “dangerous organizations and individuals.” This followed a successful campaign by UK-based advocacy group Hope Not Hate to remove him from all major platforms.

Tate is routinely called a “misogynist” by media outlets. He claims all allegations of abuse, assault, rape, and even human trafficking that have been put against him were “taken out of context.” Despite this, it’s worth noting that before being banned, Tate had over 11 billion views on TikTok, 4 million Twitter followers, 4.7 million Instagram followers, and 768,000 YouTube subscribers. His followers (who he refers to as his “army”) have continued to spam these platforms with edited video footage and podcast recordings in support of him.

Why are children and young people interested in this behaviour?

There are many reasons why a child or young person might begin to show interest in this kind of harmful content online.

  • Glamourous lifestyle. Many of the influencers or personalities conveying these harmful behaviours appear to be sitting in the lap of luxury and fame. Some are actors, wealthy businessmen, even high-ranking political figures. These people seem successful, inspiring, and confident in their beliefs.
  • Fast fame. The controversial nature of these behaviours seems to automatically make unknown names into trending hashtags on social media platforms. In posts attached to these ideas, the sudden rise to fame is often addressed by thanking their followers for their ‘loyal support’.
  • Isolation and loneliness. Children and young people who feel isolated, rejected, and ostracised are particularly vulnerable to this type of content. A newly discovered set of ideologies could make sense of their world while offering them a place of acceptance and new friends.
  • Looking for advice. A topic or insecurity that a young person needs help with could inspire them to begin vulnerably searching for an answer on social media. Some of these personalities claim to be motivational speakers and are lauded by those they have ‘helped’ with their wisdom and advice.
  • Keeping up with peers. Young people may seek out dangerous online personalities such as Andrew Tate, in a bid to appear ‘informed’ amongst friends or older siblings who might view this type of harmful content in a form of unhealthy entertainment.

It is important to note that children and young people are still growing in their emotional, physical, and mental maturity. If they are engaging with content that promotes harmful behaviours (such as misogyny), it does not mean they fully understand or agree with what is being said (even if they claim they do). This also extends to exhibiting harmful behaviour.

How are children and young people exposed to this behaviour?

There are several ways that those in your care may be observing harmful behaviour. It’s important to be aware of what they are, and to regularly check-in with how each may be having an impact.

An algorithm is built-in AI (artificial intelligence) that social media platforms use to generate content based on posts users have previously interacted with. This is used to try and keep users scrolling on the platform for as long as possible.

There has been much backlash against social media platforms for using algorithms to promote harmful material – such as knives, physical attacks, or sexual behaviour – to users under 18 years old. One investigation found that a teenage boy’s account, which watched videos aimed at male audiences, increasingly began to recommend videos of Tate and similar creators, regardless of whether they liked the content or not.

No one comes from a perfect home. Extreme physical or verbal abuse happens in some homes, while a more subtle form may exist in others. Playful jokes, suggestive comments, or arguments (even within healthy, consenting adult relationships) might be interpreted incorrectly by children who were not meant to witness them.

Remember – young children are especially prone to replicating behaviour, especially if it is done by an adult they are closely connected to.  

Young people consume a huge array of media. Actors and actresses from their favourite shows may be starring in more adult productions that are easily accessible through streaming services, TikTok, Instagram, or YouTube. For example, in 2021, following large success with her HBO show Euphoria, lead actress and producer Zendaya was horrified when a child stepped up to question her about the show, which features heavy drug use, sexual acts and abuse, and excessive physical violence.

Some professionals are worried about the larger impact this material might have. Hannah Ruschen of the NSPCC said, “Viewing such material at a young age can shape a child’s experiences and attitudes, resulting in further harm to women and girls in and out of school and online.”

Potential Risks

When considering the impact that harmful behaviours may have on children and young people, it’s important to highlight these potential risks.

  • Replicating or engaging in the behaviour in order to ‘fit in’ with peers.
  • Low self-esteem when comparing themselves to ‘successful’ personalities.
  • Being the victim or perpetrator of cyberbullying.
  • Having an emotional reaction to harmful content online.
  • Damage to their reputation that could impact relationships and future plans.
  • Views and beliefs being negatively influenced or ‘nudged’ in the wrong direction.

 Our Advice

To help you give the best care and support possible in situations where harmful content is being used or presented, our online safety experts have provided the following advice for parents, carers, and safeguarding professionals.

  • Stay calm. If the child or young person in your care is exhibiting these behaviours or being targeted by them, the best thing you can do is realise that there is a problem that they need your help with. Approach them with gentleness and love, even if you dislike their behaviour.
  • Talk to them. Ask them to explain what happened, and give them space to tell you in their own words. It may be emotional or embarrassing to discuss, but being able to talk through complex feelings in a supportive environment will help them.
  • Be honest. It can be hard, but consider how your own actions (or those of family members or friends) might be affecting this behaviour. This may present in shouting, teasing, pressure, or even bullying, and could affect their coping mechanisms.
  • Identify help. It’s important that children and young people have someone they can turn to for help, even if that person is not you. Use our Trusted Adults resource to highlight who these people are for them.
  • Approach senior staff. If you become aware of a situation involving harmful content and those in your care, it’s important to notify staff. They may be able to offer insight into patterns in online behaviours, and should be included if there are any steps to be taken.
  • Allow room for discussion. The children in your care may want to talk about what they’ve seen online at seemingly inappropriate times (e.g., in the classroom). Try not to shut down their conversations or ban certain topics. Where appropriate, ask those in your care to think about how they would feel if someone they love was treated this way. Emphasise the damage that this behaviour causes online and off, and reflect on why it should stop.
  • Offer solutions. It is helpful to discuss examples of respectful language versus harmful language or ‘friendship behaviour’ versus harmful behaviour. You could even use examples from popular television shows or films to connect the lesson!
  • Talk about respect in every setting. Explain that no one is perfect and sometimes others will hurt our feelings, but that doesn’t mean we should engage in harmful behaviour. We should help each other to be kind online and offline.

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