Discover more from The Great Gender Divergence
How Popular is Andrew Tate? And Why?
He's much more popular than I anticipated.
Andrew Tate gained notoriety on social media for espousing sexism. A new public opinion poll by YouGov rocks my priors. Favourability is far higher than I expected. 14% of young British men agree that a wife is her husband’s property.
Does this reflect genuine resentment of women’s education and employment, as well as rejection on dating apps, or should we blame social media?
Determining media impact is challenging, as consumption is driven by demand. But looking back through human history as well as more recent studies on corporate algorithms, we can posit a likely explanation. Rich, successful people are widely revered. Wielding influence and charisma, they can steer public opinion, especially if they’re boosted by corporate algorithms.
Rich, successful people can be very persuasive, especially if they’re charismatic.
Rich, successful people are typically respected as knowledgeable leaders - observes Cecilia Ridgeway in her excellent new book, “Status”.
“We tend to learn from and listen to those who are more eminent in society.. Our willingness to follow social status and prestige and imitate successful individuals is so deep in our psyche that it appears ingrained.. If you are rich or politically powerful, you will command social status, which then makes you more persuasive” (Acemoglu and Johnson 2023).
Heads of big banks, for example, are respected for their wealth, success, and specialised knowledge. After the Wall Street crisis, the financial sector and its allies convinced the public to give AIG a bailout of $182 billion and pay half a billion in bonuses.
Ideological influence is not only a function of individual success, but also social networks and institutions. As I discuss in “Politicising Inequality: the Power of Ideas”, Latin American media was overwhelmingly owned and controlled by whites, who portrayed indigenous people as ignorant savages. They set the agenda and naturalised inequalities, which were largely taken as inevitable and unchangeable. Likewise for US banks, “executives and board members belonged to social networks that had enormous economic power and propagated these ideas”.
Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram spread hate speech and misinformation because their algorithms elevate sensational, radicalising articles. They also create ‘filter bubbles’ (a term coined by Eli Pariser) because they show people stories that fit their priors. Corporate quests for advertising revenue create social networks that augment extremism - explain Acemoglu and Johnson.
Corporate algorithms are also a kind of institution, they set the rules of the (digital) game. A&J don’t actually use this terminology, but to me it seems consistent.
Prestige bias, charisma and corporate algorithms
Okay, now putting this altogether. Andrew Tate is a multi-millionaire businessman, frequently seen with pretty young women in private jets and super yachts. As an ex-kickboxer, he’s physically fit. Confidence and charisma amp up the appeal, creating an ‘influencer’. Because he embodies success, whatever he said was likely to get traction. Algorithms likely cocooned his fans, by propagating misogynist filter bubbles.
After concerted campaigning, social media companies have banned Tate. But they’ve nevertheless maintained the algorithms that turbo-charged his popularity. Those who value gender equality may want to change the rules of the game.
The Great Gender Divergence is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.