Andrew Tate, one of the most controversial internet personalities out there, has captured the attention of middle and high school boys—and teachers say his offensive, violent rhetoric has made its way into the classroom this school year.
Tate, a British-American former professional kickboxer, rose to fame in the last couple years through offering his mostly male fans advice on self-improvement. The 36-year-old is also a self-described misogynist, comparing women to dogs, saying women shouldn’t be allowed to drive, and claiming that men have “authority” over their female partners. He’s also argued that women should “bear some responsibility” for being raped.
And even though he was arrested in Romania in December on charges of rape and human trafficking, his influence might not be waning any time soon. While Tate was banned from TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube for hate speech last summer, fan clips of his videos still circulate on those sites, and he was reinstated on Twitter last fall after a five-year ban. Tate is currently in jail, but tweets from his account are still posted regularly.
Experts say preteen boys are particularly susceptible to Tate’s brand of toxic masculinity. Teachers across the world, including in the United States, have shared on social media that they’ve seen an uptick in male students repeating sexist vitriol in class to get a rise from their classmates and teachers.
“It’s concerning—these kids pretty much live online,” said Jordan Randolph, a middle school English teacher in Texas. “The younger boys, they’re so impressionable. They’re definitely at an age where they’re trying to figure out, what does it mean to be a man? What kind of man will I become? It seems like the whole Andrew Tate thing captures them.”
Sometimes, her students will blurt out joking references to Tate, like his infamous retort, “What color is your Bugatti?,” as a way of bragging about their possessions. But occasionally, the comments feel more pointed. Last semester, one 6th grade boy asked Randolph about Tate. She dismissed the question, saying it wasn’t appropriate to talk about at school. The next day, he raised his hand in the middle of an unrelated class discussion and asked again what she thought of Tate.
Randolph felt unsettled: “It was like he was using the question to upset me—almost like it was a weapon,” she said. “It honestly did upset me. … I was like, ‘Why do you keep asking?’ He was like, ‘I just want to know what you think.’”
She responded that he was inappropriate and a misogynist, and several of her other students started cheering. “They were sick of hearing about it, too,” Randolph said.
Sarah “Mili” Milianta-Laffin, a 7th grade teacher in Ewa Beach, Hawaii, learned about Tate from her female students who were disturbed that their boyfriends were watching his videos. Then, she started to notice a disturbing uptick in misogynistic rhetoric that she attributes to Tate’s influence.
“There’s been a huge increase in rape jokes that the boys are making,” she said. “I’ve been teaching for 17 years, and that’s not really a topic that comes up, especially in a joking matter.”
Milianta-Laffin refers those students to a counselor, who informed their parents. Typically, she said, families are “mortified—they don’t believe it’s their kid,” she said. “A lot of them are shocked to learn that this content is out there.”
She doesn’t think her students are seeking Tate out, but rather, algorithms are introducing his content to them while they scroll TikTok or YouTube. And they don’t have the social-emotional skills—particularly following pandemic-related school shutdowns when they weren’t in physical classrooms—to recognize how problematic the videos are, Milianta-Laffin said.
“They don’t understand the severity of what they’re saying,” she said. “They’re not understanding that one person’s joke is another person’s trigger.”
Why is Andrew Tate so appealing to young boys?
Middle school students are “really in the process of figuring out who they are and their place in the world,” said Mairead Moloney, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Kentucky who studies online misogyny. “It’s really seductive for someone like Andrew Tate to come along with a worldview that puts you at the very center of the world and, in essence, makes all other groups beholden to you.”
Pasha Dashtgard, the director of research at American University’s Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab (PERIL), said Tate’s rhetoric appeals to boys who feel forgotten or left out of the cultural conversation that has embraced and popularized feminism.
“There are a lot of young boys who are like, ‘I don’t see how I fit into this, and I don’t understand how feminist concepts apply to me, except as a way of criticizing me or diminishing me,’” he said. “That gap creates space for grifters and scam artists and people who have bad intentions to insert themselves into the conversation. Andrew Tate is part of a long legacy of shock jocks and people who make their money being offensive.”
Tate runs “Hustler’s University,” a series of online courses on how to make money on the internet (through methods like investing in cryptocurrency or setting up e-commerce stores). He charges $49.99 a month. Some of the subscribers claim to be as young as 13.
“There is cultural cache of being the person who has this secret code to society,” Dashtgard said. “Andrew Tate is … targeting a common human problem: ‘I’m a young boy, I’m nervous around girls. I don’t know how to talk to women; I’m insecure.’ … It’s all done with this idea of, ‘If you just give me your money, I’ll teach you how to be … the perfect man.’”
Tate draws young boys in with his talk of fancy cars, the money he makes, and his experience as a professional kickboxer. He shares fitness tips and gives motivational advice about working hard and believing in yourself.
They’re definitely at an age where they’re trying to figure out, what does it mean to be a man? What kind of man will I become? It seems like the whole Andrew Tate thing captures them.
“He does say aggressive and offensive things, but a lot of his videos come across as him being amiable, a good guy, funny,” Moloney said. “That makes it more seductive—he comes across as one of the boys. It’s very accessible.”
This type of content is sandwiched between misogynistic rants or other hateful comments. But that’s how radicalization works, Moloney said: “You don’t start with the worst stuff. You draw people in by having these more middle-of-the-road views.”
Falling into Tate’s rabbit hole is dangerous, she said. Men’s misogynistic attitudes are linked to the perpetration of physical or sexual violence against women.
But extreme misogyny also harms men, Moloney said. Men who have sexist beliefs tend to have higher rates of substance abuse and depression and are less likely to be able to ask for and receive help, more likely to bully others, and are less likely to form intimate connections with women or men.
What to do when a student brings up Tate in class
If a student repeats a harmful comment from Tate in front of other students, “the teacher has a responsibility to the class and to the people who are being targeted by that hate speech and offensive terms and statements, separate from this person who is saying these things,” Dashtgard said.
For instance, teachers could send students who make those comments to the school counselor, he said, but then they also must tell the rest of the class that kind of language isn’t acceptable.
When talking one-on-one to a student who has espoused Tate’s views, educators shouldn’t immediately criticize Tate, the experts said. “Do not come from a place of judgment or, ‘You’re really in trouble’—that’s not effective, that shuts down the conversation,” Dashtgard said.
Instead, educators could say: “Hey, you’re saying these horrible things about women. What do you think your sister thinks about this? [What about] your mom? How would you feel if someone was saying this about you?” he said.
The Social Institute, an online learning platform that focuses on how students can better navigate social media and technology, is developing a lesson about the impact and power of social media influencers. The lesson will be available to The Social Institute’s partner schools and districts, which include Greece Central school district in Rochester, N.Y., the Juneau, Alaska, district, and some schools within the Boston public school system.
Laura Tierney, the organization’s founder and CEO, said the idea for the lesson came from teachers requesting ways to discuss Tate and his influence with students that are relatable instead of “cringey.”
“I think it can be really hard to pass students’ cringe test when it comes to these topics like Andrew Tate,” she said. “You fail at this test when you talk down to students, when you only assume a common adult perspective on technology: ‘It should go away; this person is only bad; there are no good things’—just being more close-minded. I think you pass it when you are asking open-ended questions to students and getting them talking and sharing.”
Tierney recalled an exercise her athletic coach once did with her: Scroll through your social media feed and name five values that you see. Unsubscribe from or unfollow five people who don’t align with your personal values.
She said she reminds students to “control the controllable.” They’re not in control of what Tate posts, but they can control who they follow and whether it aligns with their goals and who they want to be.
Students need media literacy
Dashtgard said it’s far easier and more effective to teach students the skills they need to weed out bad actors on social media before they come across them, rather than de-radicalizing them afterwards.
“Just like a vaccine, if you give people a dose of propaganda and you explain to them that this person or these people are going to use the following strategies for manipulating you, they’re much less likely to believe it” when they come across the content organically, Dashtgard said.
Some of the strategies found in online propaganda, including Tate’s content, are scapegoating marginalized groups, offering simple solutions to complex problems, and cherry-picking facts, he said.
Moloney, of the University of Kentucky, also called for schools to teach more explicitly about gender equality in the earliest grades. Children need to know that women are capable of being leaders, and men are capable of being caretakers, she said.
“Nobody wins in this current system where we teach children from the youngest ages that there is a gender that is superior, and there is a gender that is inferior,” Moloney said. “Kids get the message, and when someone like Tate comes around,” they believe him.
After all, while Tate might end up serving a lengthy prison sentence, he’s just a symptom of a larger problem, the experts said. There will be another Tate-like influencer who comes around soon enough.
“Educators have to find solutions to not keep playing whack-a-mole when it comes to this topic,” Tierney said. “There is always going to be some negative influencer in the news that students will be following and talking about.”