Teenage boys ‘bombarded’ with misogynist content within minutes of signing up to TikTok and YouTube Shorts

DCU research finds young males fed ‘toxic’ antifeminist and other extremist content within 23 minutes

Teenage boys are being bombarded with misogynist content on social media platforms such as TikTok and YouTube Shorts due to algorithms which amplify antifeminist and other extremist content, according to new research.

The study from Dublin City University’s anti-bullying centre tracked and recorded the content recommended to accounts registered as 16- to 18-year-old boys on blank smartphones.

Researchers found that all of the male accounts were fed masculinist, antifeminist and other extremist content, irrespective of whether they sought out general or male supremacist-related content.

They all received this content within the first 23 minutes of the experiment.


The study, conducted by Prof Debbie Ging, Dr Catherine Baker and Dr Maja Andreasen, found that once the accounts showed interest by watching this sort of content, the amount rapidly increased.

After two to three hours’ viewing, the vast majority of content being recommended to the phones was “toxic”. Andrew Tate was one of the most prevalent “manfluencers” to appear in these videos.

Prof Ging said the study shows that shutting down influencers’ accounts does not necessarily remove their content.

“The overwhelming presence of Andrew Tate content in our data set at a time when he was de-platformed means that social media companies must tackle harmful content in more sophisticated ways,” she said.

The report follows trenchant criticism of social media companies at an Oireachtas committee on Tuesday, where social media firms were accused of causing “unquantifiable damage” by promoting inappropriate and dangerous content to young people.

The Oireachtas committee on children was attended by representatives of Meta, TikTok and X.

Michael Creed, a Cork-based Fine Gael TD, said legislators needed to be “much, much more aggressive”.

While social media firms were seeking credit for taking millions of underage accounts offline, he said nobody underage should have access to social media in the first place.

“The State doesn’t give driving licences to 12- or 13-year-olds,” he said. “Why should we accept a situation where a social media company can say ‘oh, well, they told me they were 13 or 16′?”

Senator Malcolm Byrne said he was not convinced that use of artificial intelligence to flag inappropriate content, such as extreme or violent material, was effective.

“No matter what you’re doing, you’re not succeeding,” he said.

Fianna Fáil Senator Erin McGreehan said much of social media was a “cesspit” and not a safe place for children, while Fine Gael senator Mary Seery-Kearney said it was “unforgivable” that WhatsApp recently reduced its age limit to 13.

Susan Moss, head of public policy at TikTok, said safety was a core priority of company, which now has more than 40,000 “trust and safety” professionals working to protect online users.

Dualta Ó Broin, head of public policy for Meta in Ireland, said the most efficient and effective way to tackle underage access was to have an age verification system at the operating system or app store level.

“This would not remove responsibility from every app to have processes in place to manage age effectively,” he said.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent