ISD’s Head of Communications & Editorial, Tim Squirrell, spoke to Nicky Woolf for Tortoise’s Slow News podcast, discussing the rise of manosphere influencer Andrew Tate. As a subject matter expert on misogynist extremism and with a PhD in online platforms, Tim explained Tate’s ideological background and the dynamics of social media platforms that have propelled him to stardom.
On Tate’s ideology, Tim said, “It’s a mix of red pill culture and hustle culture. It’s kind of a resurgence of early 2010s men’s rights activist culture, which you would see on Reddit, mixed with a filtered through the lens of 2020s Instagram hustle culture, rise and grind, Sigma grindset stuff.”
The problem with Andrew Tate’s material is not just that it is misogynistic, as Tim explained, he propagates retrograde attitudes towards women, including glorifying abuse, but that it has been served up by recommendation algorithms in enormous volumes.
“Just watching one of something can result in you being served loads more of it. So the consequence of that is that YouTube Shorts these days is full of redpill content, blackpill content, Jordan Peterson stuff… all the sorts of things that we used to complain about on standard YouTube back in 2017,” Tim said. This is due not only to poor content moderation, but also to an algorithm that was intentionally developed to compete with TikTok (just like Instagram Reels’), optimising videos in an extremely fast manner.
“It’s constantly optimising for the things that it thinks you want to be watching. That means you can very quickly end up with your feed in a particular place.”
He continues: What separates TikTok from other platforms is how aggressively the algorithm optimises, and the volume of people uploading similar kinds of content. Tate specifically encouraged his audience to upload videos of him, resulting in Tate content flooding the platform. Tate was also “encouraging them to post the most controversial stuff and provoke arguments with the aim of provoking engagement. And because most algorithms optimise for engagement, that means that the things that cause people to argue with each other get a lot of views, comments and likes, and are also shared by people who really hate them.” Tate’s tactics, then, include “standard outrage bait” as well as algorithmic manipulation.
Tate’s success, then, is a product of both an audience for his extreme beliefs and of a failure of social media policy. Tim compares him to a leech, attached on to an internet that turns data into money, sucking as much blood out as he could before he was torn off and deplatformed. He concludes: unless the systems themselves change, there will always be another Andrew Tate waiting to capitalise.