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Digital media has emerged as an important platform for news consumption — particularly among younger generations — with Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube ranking as the top three news sources for British teenagers. However, as social media platforms are not kept to the same journalistic standards as traditional news outlets, contributing to the proliferation of misinformation and disinformation, concerns naturally arise. With 98 per cent of 12-17-year-olds on social media, this poses a significant and dangerous problem, especially considering the surge in gendered disinformation.

Welcome to the Manosphere

Distinguishing between disinformation and misinformation is vital in investigating the escalating misogyny online. While misinformation refers to ‘false information with no intent of causing harm,’ disinformation implies a deliberate intent to cause harm. Given the evident intent to negatively impact women based on their identity, this discussion specifically addresses disinformation.

The ‘manosphere,’ a digital realm comprising websites, blogs, and online forums promoting masculinity, misogyny, and opposition to feminism has gained increased support, particularly among young men. Exploiting male issues such as loneliness, alienation, and economic challenges, the manosphere directs these frustrations towards women and feminism. For many young men, their introduction to the manosphere stems not from a pre-existing hatred of women but from a broader frustration with society. Andrew Tate, an influential figure within the manosphere, exploits this frustration with misogynistic disinformation. Despite being banned from multiple social media platforms, including YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok, Tate’s influence and misogynistic views persist. He has effectively indoctrinated and mobilised his community to repost his content on his ‘banned’ platforms, reaching millions of views. Tate’s reinstatement to a platform of over eight million followers following Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter reflects a broader trend of increased misinformation on ‘X’.

Despite claiming to be a ‘force for good,’ Tate contributes to the radicalization of young men. Schools across the UK report increasing numbers of students admiring Tate, who was recently arrested on human trafficking and rape charges. Dr Mulhall warns of the lasting harm caused by Tate’s online activities, stating that ‘the harm that has been done in the last six months by Andrew Tate online is going to take years to unpick.’ A Girlguiding survey reveals a concerning rise in threatening abuse online, with 81 per cent of young women aged 11 to 21 experiencing some form of abuse, compared to 65 per cent in 2018.

INCEL Subculture & Radicalisation

The prevalence of online misogyny is underscored by notable events, such as the misogynistic terror attack perpetrated by Elliot Rodger in 2014. As a member of the ‘INCEL’ subculture, Rodger attributed blame to women for his actions and his manifesto has subsequently served as inspiration for others, as evidenced by Alek Minassian in 2018. Similarly, Jake Davison, responsible for the death of five people in Plymouth in 2021, openly displayed strong misogynistic views online. The tragic incident of Elianne Andam’s fatal stabbing in September 2023 further highlights the pervasive levels of violence against women and girls.

The UK faces a crisis of cyber abuse, with proven links to offline violence, reflecting the consequences of online misogyny. The Online Safety Act inadequately addresses online misogyny, highlighting a gap in governmental efforts to combat misinformation and protect women. Laura Bates, author of Men Who Hate Women, advocates for better resources, funding, and training in schools to address these issues from an early age. She calls for the designation of violent extremist misogyny as a form of terrorism, with resources allocated accordingly, including recognition of the grooming of boys into these ideologies as a form of radicalization.

In conclusion, the digital age has ushered in transformative changes in how we access information, concurrently unveiling vulnerabilities in our societal fabric, notably through the proliferation of misinformation and online misogyny. Effectively tackling the multifaceted challenges posed by these issues demands a comprehensive and collaborative effort from individuals, educators, lawmakers, and digital platforms alike. It is imperative that we not only address the harmful effects of online misogyny but also confront the rampant spread of misinformation, ensuring a safer and more inclusive digital landscape for everyone. Only through such concerted actions can we navigate these challenges and build a digital space that promotes accuracy, respect, and equal representation.

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