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TikTok complicit in the harm caused by the influencer

Although I’m a millennial currently working in digital marketing and content creation, I don’t use TikTok.

For those unfamiliar with the app, TikTok is a video hosting service that provides users with an endless and addictive stream of short videos: pranks, tricks, jokes, dance routines, challenges; you name it.

But even though I refrain from using this platform, knowing that I would easily become addicted to adorable videos of cats doing mischief, I haven’t escaped TikTok’s latest viral sensation: Andrew “Cobra” Tate. Fiery, confident, with cantaloupe-sized biceps and a cigar that invariably sticks out of his smiling mouth, Tate is the new poster boy for toxic masculinity.

Billing himself as an “alpha influencer,” Tate’s whole schtick is a nauseating mix of money-making “advice,” misogyny, pseudo-intellectualism, nihilistic greed, and relentless arrogance. And it seems to work for him; Over the past few months, he’s been propelled from true obscurity to dizzying heights of fame seen only by equally meaningless celebrities such as Donald Trump and the Kardashians.

So who is this prankster? Emory Andrew Tate III is a former kickboxing world champion turned self-help guru and playboy who resides in Bucharest, Romania, where he rules an MLM empire called Hustlers University 2.0 and millions of rapidly growing social media outlets. Tate’s “Hustler’s University” program is partly to blame for its growing popularity. Over 127,000 members pay £39 (NZ$75) a month to join the Hustler University community and are encouraged to flood social media with videos of him, earning an affiliate commission if they win over others people to register.

There’s nothing particularly new about Tate’s “rag-to-riche” schtick; The internet is full of like-minded scammers peddling get-rich-quick schemes and dodgy cryptocurrencies.

Much of Tate’s content is so ridiculous it’s laughable. Did you know, for example, that sushi, cheerios and cats are decidedly anti-masculine? Or that sparkling water is the only water that should pass the lips of a “real man”? But his other opinions are no joke. Tate is deeply homophobic, he doesn’t believe depression (or Covid-19, for that matter) exists, and his views on women are downright appalling.

Tate has openly described hitting and choking women, describing in a clip how he would attack a woman if she accused him of cheating. He has told rape victims to “take responsibility” and insists he only dates women aged 18 or 19 because he is more capable of “making an imprint” on them. Other nauseating views espoused by Tate include his belief that women belong in the house, shouldn’t drive, and are a man’s property.

Tate has also been promoted and set up by many other social media influencers and podcasters including YMH, Fresh&Fit, The Fellas and many more. Additionally, he has become friends with some members of the far right, including conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, Nigel Farage, Stephen Yaxley-Lennon and Donald Trump jun.

It is reprehensible that TikTok is allowing Tate’s misogynistic and abusive posts to spread unfiltered on its platform. TikTok has a responsibility to ensure the safety, health and well-being of its users, many of whom are vulnerable and deeply impressionable. But TikTok’s algorithm aggressively promotes Tate’s catchy and inflammatory videos, despite the app’s own rules explicitly banning misogyny and impersonator accounts. TikTok is complicit, and in its inaction against Tate, the app is amplifying and profiting from the radicalization of young male users.

Sexual violence does not exist in a vacuum; it is shaped and inflated by misogynistic and sexist attitudes such as those espoused by Tate. The proliferation of Tate videos on TikTok, Instagram, YouTube and other platforms promotes the normalization of sexual abuse, as well as the emotional abuse, manipulation and control of women and girls.

However, Tate’s attitudes aren’t just harmful to women and girls. According to White Ribbon United Kingdom, “Men and boys who regularly watch and listen to negative portrayals of masculinity may begin to adopt these attitudes and behaviors, believing they are acting like the ‘right man’.

This copycat behavior creates a lot of pressure on men and boys, negatively affecting their mental health and self-image as they desperately try to appear “tough, aggressive and suppressing their emotions”.

Ultimately, “these traits feed into gender norms of what it is to be ‘male’ and ‘to be female’. Gender inequality is a direct result of traditional and negative stereotypes that limit gender roles. women and men in society”.

Parents and teachers of young people, especially teenagers, should be aware of Tate’s harmful influence. There are a host of resources available to combat the toxic nonsense spewed out by Tate, such as those offered by White Ribbon New Zealand, Health Navigator New Zealand and Ally Skills New Zealand.

There are other top role models in the MMA and martial arts scenes for young boys and men to admire. Take Paddy “The Baddy” Pimblett, for example. Following Paddy’s victory over Jordan Leavitt by submission at UFC London on July 23, he gave an impassioned speech in which he revealed that a friend of his had committed suicide the day before.

“There’s a stigma in this world that men can’t talk about,” he said.

“Look, if you’re a man and you have a weight on your shoulders and you think the only way to solve it is to kill yourself, talk to somebody. Talk to anybody. I know I would rather have my my mate cry on my shoulder than go to his funeral next week So please let’s get rid of this stigma and men start talking.

I have five younger brothers: John, Andrew, Will, Peter and Jack. I have already lost a brother, my dear John, to suicide. I know he felt the crushing weight of toxic masculinity on his young shoulders; I know he felt ill-equipped to reach out and ask for help with his depression and paranoia. I know how vulnerable and ignored he felt, and I know countless other young men around the country probably feel the same way.

Andrew Tate cannot and should not be a role model for our boys and men. They deserve much better.

Jean Balchin, a former student of English at the University of Otago, studies at the University of Oxford after receiving a Rhodes scholarship.