Let’s talk about…Censorship and the manosphere

Andrew Tate, the manosphere, and the line between free speech and inciting hate

Influencer Andrew Tate made headlines yet again this week when news broke that he had been banned across all major social media platforms. Over the span of the few days, Tate’s massive online following – comprising 11 billion TikTok views, 4.7 million Instagram followers, 4 million Twitter followers, millions of Facebook interactions, and almost 800,000 YouTube subscribers – was disbanded. However, neither he, nor his influence, has gone away completely.

Prior to this string of bans, Tate’s name had been flooding online discourse for several weeks. A self-described misogynist, Tate gained his recent widespread online relevance on the back of several different clips that began circulating across the various social media platforms, but particularly on TikTok. In these clips, Tate refers to women as men’s physical and financial property, suggests rape victims “bear responsibility” for their attacks, admits to dating 18/19-year-olds so he can “make an imprint on them”, and frequently talks about hitting and choking women. This is not to mention what has been reported about Tate beyond these clips, such as the fact that he is currently under investigation for both human trafficking and rape charges.

Tate rose to prominence in 2016 following a controversial Big Brother appearance, and in the years following, he focused on cultivating his online audience. Tate marketed himself as a ‘self-help guru’ for young men, his content occupying an online space known as the ‘manosphere’.

The manosphere refers to a subsection of the internet dedicated to the promotion of hypermasculinity and misogyny. The type of content found within the manosphere ranges widely, covering everything from ‘alpha male’ content (which promotes pick-up culture and hypermasculinity to young men as a means of climbing the social ladder) to full-blown ‘incel’ culture.

For anyone unaware of the term, ‘incel’ (meaning involuntarily celibate) refers to members of an online community of young men, united in their advocation for male supremacy and the view that their lack of sexual success is the fault of womankind – whom they view as a money-hungry, promiscuous, and manipulative monolith. The incel community is one of the most clear-cut examples of how manosphere discourse can lead to real-world harm, with there having been several instances of incels committing suicide after being encouraged by fellow incels, or going on violent rampages and killing dozens of people in the name of the so-called ‘incel rebellion’.

Not only does content under the manosphere umbrella present an obvious danger for women (given the blatant, and often violent, misogyny at play), it is also clear that the content is designed to target vulnerable young men who are unhappy in their lives – be it due to a lack of sexual success, perceived social inferiority, etc. Male mental health is already not given enough space in public discourse, and it is certainly not helped that the loudest voices in the male self-help sphere are from people like Tate. Tate’s audience is dominated by young men who want to emulate the success and confidence he boasts about having. Instead, they become deeply influenced by him, and internalise the extreme and dangerous misogyny he promotes.

Despite the ban, Tate was able to share one ‘final message’ to social media via the Twitter account of fellow internet personality Jake Paul. Though Paul had publicly criticised Tate earlier this month, he explained he posted Tate’s message because he felt the ban went in the name of free speech – and he’s not alone in that opinion. However, it is naive to think this is a matter of censorship; it’s a matter of impeding the dangerous promotion of violence and incitation of hatred.

No one is denying that we’re allowed to have different opinions, but promoting violent misogyny to an impressionable audience when you are fully aware of how much influence you hold over them is another thing altogether. We know the real-world harm that manosphere discourse can have. We cannot be more interested in protecting a bigot’s right to spread bigotry than we are in protecting people’s actual well-being.

Tate’s ban, a positive step though it is, has not erased his impact. His influence lives on in the clips that his fans continue to circulate online, fans who talk about carrying on his legacy in his absence. In a strange and deeply worrying way, this ban has martyred him.

This whole ordeal, and the damage done by manosphere discourse in general, ought to teach us that we need healthy online communities for vulnerable young men to turn to that aren’t rooted in male superiority and violent misogyny, because if we don’t, it’s only a matter of time before the next Andrew Tate pops up.