Andrew Tate is banned from social media, but is that enough?
The toxic TikToker has been removed from most social media channels, but that doesn't mean his message of hate has also disappeared, says Laura Craik
Thursday 25 August 2022 By Laura Craik
Like many parents, I first heard of Andrew Tate through my kids. Which feels like the wrong way round: they’re supposed to be the innocent ones. Kids are meant to climb trees and bake cookies. They’re not meant to have their minds polluted by a person who claims depression isn’t real and women should ‘bear some responsibility’ for being raped. In an ideal world, they would be watching Hey Duggee, not videos of Tate hitting a woman with a belt, an act that got him kicked off the soon-to-be-reprised Big Brother in 2016 when footage surfaced (Tate claimed the act had been consensual).
But it’s not an ideal world. As any parent will attest, a child’s loss of innocence begins the moment they take a bite of the Apple, or whichever other smartphone/ tablet their parents have thrust upon them to function as ersatz childcare while they work from home. However many filters you apply, and however judiciously you try to police their content, it’s a stone cold fact that sooner or later, your kids will find a d**k. Not the fleshy kind – the filters will take care of those – this d**k will be in human form, and way more harmful. How will they find him? Because he’s devoted his life to being found, via the tried and tested formula of being outrageous. We all know that racism, misogyny and homophobia travel further on social media than sharing what you had for dinner. Before you can say ‘can’t you just watch a cat meme?’, one of your kid’s friends will have forwarded an Andrew Tate video, opening a window into a world of toxic masculinity and hate.
I have two daughters aged 16 and 12, and that four-year difference is a chasm in terms of the way they consume social media. While the 16-year-old uses TikTok gingerly, grudgingly and in full knowledge of its pitfalls, the 12-year-old is obsessed. Ironically, she first heard about Andrew Tate through a feminist TikTok account who was ‘calling him out’, one of many who unwittingly gave him the very oxygen of publicity that has now, finally, been taken away. This is why Tate had to be banned. Since hate speech can go viral in a heartbeat, the most effective way to stop it is to shut it down completely.
Perhaps even more than adults, kids have a finely honed spidey sense for rooting out controversial content online, whose implications they’re too young to fully understand, but they share it anyway. By the time he was banned, videos of Tate detailing violent acts against women, comparing them to property or animals, supporting rape and spouting racist, homophobic, transphobic, fatphobic and classist comments had been watched on TikTok 11.6 billion times, and had amassed Tate 4.7 million followers on Instagram. A cynic would say the fact that said numbers are huge dollar signs for these platforms is why they were so woefully slow to shut them down, despite Tate’s content blatantly violating their guidelines. My 12-year-old put it best: ‘So I can’t see a woman’s nipple, but I can see Andrew Tate? I don’t understand.’
We’ve had a thousand hot takes from adults on Andrew Tate, so I asked my 12-year-old what she thought was problematic. ‘That young, impressionable boys will see his videos and think it’s OK to act that way, even though the videos are just being fed to them so they get a false perception of women,’ she said. ‘That can lead to them getting into a toxic mindset about them.’ She reckons that younger, prepubescent boys were first lured not by Tate’s misogyny but by his promise to make them rich (one of his business ventures was a glorified pyramid scheme described as ‘an online money-focused community providing education and coaching’). ‘They see him as a businessman,’ she explained. ‘They think he built himself up from nothing. He hooks them with the business angle, then feeds them misogyny once they’re hooked.’
Tate’s ban isn’t the end of the problem, and nobody should make the mistake of thinking it is. His misogyny, homophobia and racism didn’t die with him: they live on, reposted time and again by a legion of devoted fans intent on keeping his legacy alive. ‘This feels like saying goodbye to a best friend who has had to move away’, wrote one teenage boy, Nikolai, in response to Tate’s removal from Facebook. But don’t assume all his fans are male. ‘You’re my favourite person on the internet and I’m a woman. I love how real you are,’ wrote Jen. ‘As a teenage girl I admire and see the value in Andrew’s outlook on life,’ wrote Marta. ‘I really hope that people wake up and see past falsely curated portrayals.’
If there’s one thing recent political events have taught us, it’s that people see what they want to see. As a parent, I can’t help but see commonalities between Andrew Tate and Boris Johnson. Both have used extreme opinions, argued with articulacy, to charm and win people over. Both have made rash promises, backed up by zero facts or proof, to sway hearts and minds. If thousands of grown-assed adults can be persuaded to vote Brexit on the back of a spurious bus slogan that claimed ‘we send the EU £350 million a week – let’s fund our NHS instead’, how can we expect our kids to disseminate the truth from the lies? Like cancer, Tate’s doctrines have already spread. When millions of boys continue to think he’s a hero, it’s clear that protecting kids can only go so far. We also have to educate them. Counter the hate. Explain why it’s wrong. Spell out why it has set back by light years women’s hard-won equality.
Every child needs guidance, but not every child has a loving, rational parent to dispense it. For some kids, Andrew Tate might be as close to a father figure or mentor as they get. As parents, we also have to listen as much as talk: not just to our own kids, but to our kids’ friends. We have to listen without judgement if a nine-year-old tells us Tate is cool because he’s buff and has a big car, or a 16-year-old says they admire the way he stands up for himself. Tate is damaging to girls and boys, albeit in radically different ways. His hate is still out there, multiplying. Whether we’re the parent of a daughter or a son, we need to fight it with love.