A teacher friend recently mentioned that demands to “make me sandwich, Miss” had become an almost daily occurrence at their school.

They were slightly baffled. They’d been in the profession for over 15 years, had cultivated positive relationships with young people making their way through some formative, defining, and yes, often challenging years. But this was something new.

Our friend was not entirely sure what to do about it. They turned to the Deputy Headteacher responsible for school culture and behaviour, who had also noticed some unexpected, unusual, and problematic behavioural and verbal trends in school since late 2022. They had turned to other schools in the Trust and the local authority’s team responsible for tackling threats to young people, and it appeared that this was by no means unique to one school. No one had yet appeared to have developed a comprehensive or demonstrably successful strategy for tackling the issue.

So it was no surprise when, in April 2023, the Guardian published an article discussing the lack of adequate guidance for schools in relation to the impact of objectively misogynist, racist, or radicalising messaging online.

How serious is it?

Interest in the kinds of online, radical misogyny represented by some social media influencers has grown in recent months, one of the most notorious being Andrew Tate. Tate is a British-American former kickboxer turned influencer, who has built a formidable reputation on the basis of his contentious views and bombastic style. Tate has become a kind of figurehead, shorthand and metaphor, representing a much larger movement. Despite his banning from most of the most recognisable social media platforms and detentions for serious crimes, his presence in this network means that his – and similar – content is widely available.

Young people, and boys in particular, are a primary audience for this kind of content. A recent poll reported by Hope Not Hate found that 67% of young people had encountered Tate’s content. Concerningly, the same poll found that Tate was remarkably popular with boys and young men in particular, with 52% of 16-17 year old males, and 44% of 18-24 year old males retaining a positive view of material.

While so, we want to resist entering into a moral panic.

We know that young people are not impressed by that kind of approach, and technology-induced moral panic in particular. However, what the recent evidence suggests is that not only is content shared by Tate and the wider network available, it might be playing a formative role in the ways young people are building values and behaviour systems during a key time in their development. This is a serious issue. Drawing on Livingstone and Stoilova’s ‘4 C’s’ model of online risk, the push of far right, radical, and misogynist material raises red flags in three of the four C’s:

The types of language, images, and verbal messaging being projected to young people is a form of content risk. The ways in which Tate’s and similar material is pushed to young people on social media, and the absence of adequate legislation to protect them in those spaces is a contract risk. And the types of behaviours in which they might engage, including the potential for violence against women and girls or self-harm is a conduct risk.

What can schools do?

It’s important to understand that none of this is occurring in a vacuum and that Andrew Tate is not the primary orchestrator of this perceived resurgence of misogyny. That would be giving him way too much credit. In reality he is a symptom of a problem that has partly always existed, super-charged by increased isolation and problematic disparities in thinking about gender roles between the sexes.

Individuals like Andrew Tate utilise the vulnerability of young men who face a world they increasingly struggle to understand, coupled with their isolation and lack of emotional resilience to convince them into buying expensive courses or membership. This method is by no means unique, individuals throughout history have utilised vulnerabilities and isolation to extract money from their marks.

The primary difference is that with rapid change both technologically and socially, more and more young people feel left out, socially alienated, and disengaged with politics, society, and their peers. With young people experiencing an epidemic of loneliness, economic challenges, and an uncertain future, the younger generation’s confidence in political institutions and trust in political leaders has declined. This has led them to seek out an alternative narrative and group, which pushes them into the hands of extremist narratives.

Moreover, many of the young people that turn to such ideologies do so not as a result of a specific attraction to such beliefs and extremist discourses. Rather, they do so to fulfil social and psychological needs in the form of community, identity, and a sense of belonging – which adherence to these beliefs provide.

The next thing to realise is that teachers and schools are not alone in tackling this challenge. Parents, third sector bodies, and many young people are also concerned about the rise of misogyny and far-right hate. This means that we are not going to be able to tackle the problem alone. We need a ‘multisystemic’ response, meaning that more than one system is going to have to work together. You can read more about multisystemic resilience (to all sorts of things) in this free book edited by Prof Michael Ungar.

So the first thing schools need to do is to map all of the organisations, teams, and stakeholders involved in creating the kind of atmosphere at school that you want to achieve. Think about:

  1. Your local Tackling Threats Against Children team
  2. Anyone involved in the Prevent strategy
  3. Community and specialist police
  4. Parent groups
  5. School governors
  6. Local Academy Trusts
  7. What role could each stakeholder take to help build resilience against the rise of online misogyny in your school setting?

School of Criminology partners, Shout Out UK (SOUK) tackle these issues through Political and Media Literacy education in schools, for parents and beyond. SOUK believes that this kind of education is paramount in ensuring we tackle the root cause of why young men (in particular) are being attracted to this ideology and to ensure we provide everyone with the critical thinking skills necessary to deal with the digital world.

The SOUK method focuses on teaching both Political and Media Literacy in tandem. Political Literacy offers an understanding of their democracy, how to engage with it and how to facilitate change if they want to, removing that feeling of hopelessness and isolation by giving them an understanding and route to power that is strictly apolitical. Whilst media literacy ensures those young people are given the critical thinking skills and emotional resilience necessary to not get caught out by such misinformation online.

That said, we can’t just focus on young people. Education against such ideologies is never ending and requires both parents and teachers to also have these skills. A report entitled ‘The Missing Link’, published by the APPG on Political Literacy, found that around less than 1% of teachers believed they have the skills and tools necessary to deliver vital political and media literacy in schools.

Which is why SOUK is running both Train the Trainer programmes for professionals and parents and carers across the country. Most recently SOUK ran several such workshops in the Norfolk and Suffolk region, to navigate the online world via a free ‘combatting online radicalisation and extremism’ course that provides practical tools and strategies to safeguard young people from modern 21st-century threats.

When the parents and carers were asked to agree or disagree with the following statement ‘I know what steps to take to verify a source’, prior to the programme only 34% agreed or strongly agreed with the statement. Post programme this increased to 85.34%.

Equally, when parents and carers were asked to agree or disagree with the following statement ‘I feel confident discussing controversial issues with my young person’, prior to the programme only 57% agreed or strongly agreed with the statement. Post programme this increased to 70.68%.

We as a society got caught out by these ideologies and as a result they have spread, but ensuring that we offer space on the curriculum for the education that will inoculate the next generation and arming teachers, parents and carers with the skills they need to continue the education at home will create a downward spiral for such ideologies that are enjoying a temporary resurgence, but ultimately are on borrowed time.

Authored by Di Levine, Assistant Professor/Lecturer in Criminology and Visiting Research Associate (Centre for Social Development in Africa, University of Johannesburg) and Matteo Bergamini, Founder and CEO of Shout Out UK. Originally published here: https://staffblogs.le.ac.uk/criminology/2023/06/05/what-can-schools-really-do-about-andrew-tate/