safeguarding

After Andrew Tate: How to confront online harms head-on

Andrew Tate may be banned from social media but misogyny still proliferates, writes Zahara Chowdhury, and we must do more to protect young people from it

Andrew Tate may be banned from social media but misogyny still proliferates, writes Zahara Chowdhury, and we must do more to protect young people from it

12 Sep 2022, 5:00

Andrew Tate is a name many teachers may not have heard of until very recently, but a name so many students are all too familiar with. Tate, a former kickboxer, Big Brother contestant and now social media influencer has been banned from TikTok, YouTube, Facebook and Instagram (where he had 4 million followers alone) for creating extremely concerning misogynistic and hateful online content. But not before the hashtag of his name had been clicked on 13 billion times.

Sadly, we know Tate is only one of many online influencers who create such toxic content. And consider the implications: The tragic murders of Sarah Everard, Sabina Nessa, Bibaa Henry, Nicole Smallman, Zara Aleena, and the thousands of disclosures made on the Everyone’s Invited platform tell us that women are commodities, ‘easy targets’, lesser beings. Our students are consuming this material, and it won’t do to pretend we can ban our way out of the problem.

Yes, Tate has been removed from social media platforms – but his content is still available. He has a strong following that loyally support him, attack anyone who speaks out against him and claim he is merely exercising freedom of speech. We know social media platforms need to do more to keep people, especially young people, safe online. But we also have an important role in ensuring our students are safe and know how to protect themselves.

Meanwhile, many schools have no-mobile phone policies with the aim of limiting access to social media. That provides much-needed respite, but there is so much more to we can do to promote healthy relationships with and through social media.

For example, according to Ofcom two thirds of children see harmful online content but only 16 per cent report it. With a concerted effort, we could drive that up. Here are a few ways we can do that.

Be familiar with all platforms

To keep students, parents and teachers safe, it is important every teacher has a working knowledge of all social media platforms. This can be fairly simple to achieve, especially if teachers are using at least one.

Familiarity will help teachers have discussions with students about managing their privacy and location settings, and means more safeguarding-trained adults have eyes on what’s trending.

Talk to students about content

We cannot deny that our students are growing up in a digitally rich world – one with which they are familiar and one that has already learned a lot about them before they’ve even stepped a school. That’s why lessons on managing content consumption are extremely important – in my view as important as any other part of the curriculum.

Discussions about the impact of trolling and how to engage healthily with comments, direct messages and tweets can be lifechanging for a student’s wellbeing.  We can’t fully control every piece of content a student sees or shares, but we can shape how they receive it.

Don’t blame the victims

From school policy to immediate classroom reactions, our responses and those of peers can often ‘gaslight’ the victims of online bullying or gender-based scrutiny. ‘She just shouldn’t have posted that!’ ‘Just ignore the comments.’ ‘Her skirt should be longer’. To keep young people safe online, it is important to recognise they have every right to be online (depending on their age), to express themselves freely and to not experience hatred, abuse and danger.

If students experience the latter, support them to report it and address the hatred and abuse first, while encouraging them to keep themselves safe. It is very important we protect a young person’s wellbeing and remind them they are not at fault for the hatred and bullying they may experience.

Familiarity and awareness of social media is now more important than ever for teachers and schools. This is an ever-growing body of work, one that school leaders and teachers will need to engage with more and more, from policy to practice, to keep all of our students (and all stakeholders) safe.

Because we can be sure of two things: There will be other Andrew Tates, and no amount of banning will reduce the threat they pose.

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