From ‘himfluencers’ to toxic masculinity: How social media is shaping young men

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell Jun18,2024
Key Points
  • New research from the eSafety Commissioner has examined the online experiences of young men.
  • The research found the internet can foster positive connections, but also dangerous ideas around masculinity.
  • Controversial influencer Andrew Tate remains a key figure in the online world of young men.
What does it mean to be a ‘real man’?
To some, masculinity is defined by stereotypical traits including being physically strong, being the ‘breadwinner’ of a family, and constantly acting tough.
To others, these ideas are toxic and negatively impact society as a whole.

In the age of social media, young men are grappling with manhood and masculinity, and the internet can drive both positive connections and dangerous ideas.

Being a young man online

According to a new report from Australia’s eSafety Commissioner, the internet can be a place of tensions, complexities and possibilities for young men.

The research examined the online experiences of young men in Australia aged 16 to 21 years old and explored how they express their identities, explore sexuality, and navigate social connections online.

Researchers said ideas about gender can both empower and limit young men, and those who strive to enact masculine stereotypes can end up harming themselves and others.
eSafety commissioner Julie Inman Grant said positive and diverse role models are needed as a small number of harmful voices are dominating conversations about masculinity.
“There’s constant pressure for young men to conform to particular, often narrow and traditional, ideals about manhood,” she said.
The report found, continues to be a key figure in many young men’s worlds, and engaging with this content is a central way in which some young men are shaping their identities.

Tate creates content based on male empowerment and being an ‘alpha male’, and promotes stereotypical ideas around gender roles and masculinity.

Some participants in the study said they believe he makes points about women and gender that have otherwise been unsaid or silenced.
Others viewed Tate as a good advocate for men, and said they thought society was too focused on female empowerment.
The eSafety report said young men in the study spoke about actively seeking out content associated with self-improvement and male empowerment to become their “best version”.

Much of the self-improvement content was underpinned by desires and beliefs about masculinity and manhood in the form of physical appearance and financial success.

And while the internet offered an opportunity to express themselves, insecurity and pressure to conform meant that young men crafted their identities online in ways that could be anxiety-provoking and exhausting, the report found.
Federal Minister for Women Katy Gallagher said young men are facing an online wave of influencing behaviours, including from harmful content.
She said it was important to balance masculine behaviours and perceptions of manhood.

“It’s not easy and I’m not going to pretend it is, but it’s another front that we have to confront and respond to,” Gallagher said.

How do we address toxic masculinity?

Dr Zac Seidler, the global director for Men’s Health Research at Movember, believes a different approach is needed when speaking with young men about masculinity.

He told ABC radio he believes we need to move away from “alarmist language” and terms like “toxic masculinity”, which he said is creating a divide between genders and generations.

“It’s leading to us seeing young men as a problem rather than something we can work with and find a way towards a solution for social cohesion,” he said on Friday.
“Young men are struggling and their behaviour throughout society is not something we want to continue with, so we need to find a way to connect with them, to find a way forward that actually works for them rather than us helicoptering in and deciding what is the best solution.”
Seidler said many young men and boys are attracted to the sense of community they find online.

He said progressive male voices need to find a way to better connect with young men.

We need to find a way to connect with them

Dr Zac Seidler

“Young men have a vacuum of role models, they have a vacuum of connection and belonging … there is a lack of that type of feeling of ‘I belong somewhere’ and that’s what these voices are offering,” he said.

“We should, as male progressive voices, be able to find a way to connect with young men in a similar fashion, but they’re just addicted to this transgressive, vitriolic narrative.”

The harms and benefits of online communities

While social media can negatively impact young men, the eSafety Commisioner’s report also identified some benefits.
Young men in the research spoke about the positive role that online communities play in their lives, especially in terms of their sense of belonging and acceptance.

But online spaces, such as gaming communities, can also be a place of hostility including abuse, racism and homophobia, research participants said.

Some participants said harm and abuse are common and are even accepted as normal online, while others admitted they had engaged in this behaviour themselves.
Many said they had altered their personality or behaviour online to fit in with others.
Researchers said the study had highlighted the “complex challenges and opportunities young men must negotiate as they explore their identities in the digital landscape.”

“Practitioners across education, research, policy, practice and industry should work individually and together to delve deeper into nurturing young men’s health and wellbeing, as well as their capacity for compassion, empathy and critical thinking.”

Tyler Mitchell

By Tyler Mitchell

Tyler is a renowned journalist with years of experience covering a wide range of topics including politics, entertainment, and technology. His insightful analysis and compelling storytelling have made him a trusted source for breaking news and expert commentary.

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