In February this year, the director Jamie Tahsin and I released “The Dangerous Rise of Andrew Tate” on VICE and BBC iPlayer, a 45-minute documentary in which we infiltrated the self-styled King of Toxic Masculinity’s secret society – the War Room – and reported for the first time on women from his past who allege he sexually assaulted and physically abused them. He denies these allegations.
This film had been years in the making – we tracked the rise of Tate through his multi-level marketing scheme and webcam business and challenged him on his stances regarding the treatment of women as well as his methods of “recruiting” them for webcam porn.
If you believe what you read on Twitter, you’d find that the women making allegations in my film are “paid actresses.” As part of our reporting, we included voice notes from Tate to one of these women in which he appears to discuss the alleged rape. According to many of Tate’s supporters, I faked Tate’s voice using AI.
What is the point of journalism if no one believes you?
Since the release of the film, Tate has gained several million followers on Twitter (Elon Musk lifted the ban previously held on his account in November 2022) and millions of views on Rumble (he signed a lucrative deal with them in 2022 – their daily active users soared 45.3% that same week). Despite being arrested on 29 December 2022 under investigation for human trafficking, sexual assault and organised crime (all of which he denies), Tate’s fanbase is thriving.
Shortly after our film was released – and well after his arrest – Hope Not Hate found in a survey that 47% of males between the ages of 16-24 in the UK had a positive view of Tate. If you go younger, that number goes higher, with 53% males between the ages of 16-17 having a positive view of him. And get this: boys in the 16-17 age bracket were 21 per cent more likely to have heard of Tate over Rishi Sunak, the literal prime minister of the United Kingdom.
You may not have heard of Tate. Or maybe you have, but you think it’s widely accepted that he’s a bad guy. But the same isn’t true for your sons and your nephews. They may even be watching him right now.
Three months ago, counter-extremism workers warned of a rapid rise in the number of referrals coming from schools about Tate. I am frequently contacted by female teachers who feel they are unable to control their classrooms anymore due to sexist comments from their Tate-supporting teenage male students. One was asked “What colour is your Bugatti?” (One of Tate’s catchphrase insults to those who can’t afford supercars) by a 10-year-old. Others have been told they shouldn’t be teaching because their place is in the home. I have also been contacted by women whose boyfriends, they say, have become abusive after following Tate.
Notably, misogynist extremism is not currently considered within the remit of counter-terrorism in the UK unless the person in question is also an “incel” [member of the involuntary celibacy movement] – a classification that does not apply to Tate supporters who often boast about the number of women they sleep with. Gender-based extremism, no matter how insidious, does not appear to hold the same weight in our society as other forms of extremism.
TikTok, where Tate found his fame, banned his account in the summer of 2022. But two weeks later, the Centre for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) found that videos of Tate posted by other accounts had been viewed hundreds of millions of times. In one of these videos Tate says, “virgins are the only acceptable thing to marry.” In another, he says women who do not want children are “miserable stupid bitches.” TikTok has since removed these videos, but Tate is still appearing – quickly and frequently – on teenagers’ TikTok feeds.
I receive thousands of messages from Tate’s fanbase, ranging from explicit death threats to attempts to discredit my reporting. These days, most of them seem to have a Blue Check.
One of the stars of Twitter’s social audio feature “Twitter Spaces” is the crypto millionaire Mario Nawfal, whose “The Roundtable Show” boasts over 2 million weekly listeners (according to their website), and who Musk (who has himself been on the show) called “Twitter at its best!” Nawfal regularly held “debates” about my reporting on this show, in which hosts and contributors with no significant expertise – at least one of whom had financial ties to Andrew Tate – disparaged my documentary.
When VICE went bankrupt earlier this year, a sizeable portion of the Twitter community believed Tate’s narrative that this was because my documentary (initially released on VICE) was “debunked.” On May 2nd Mario Nawfal said, in a Tweet about VICE’s bankruptcy, “Vice News made headlines with their hit-piece against @cobratate, but the documentary was debunked upon its release.” It was viewed 1.6 million times and retweeted by Jordan Peterson.
This is what traditional media, under serious financial strain (bankruptcy, in the case of VICE), has to compete with.
When I am accosted by people about Andrew Tate in the streets – a weekly occurrence – they clearly believe what they read on Twitter about my reporting. Which again leads me to wonder: what is the point of journalism if no one believes you?
For sure there have been some suggestions that a portion of society trusted the reporting in our film – being shortlisted for a Paul Foot award, being invited to News Xchange, and some messages from teachers and concerned parents. I doubt it has had as significant an impact on the audience that perhaps matters most in this story: young people.
Despite this, it is still important – in fact more important – to doggedly pursue and publish the truth. We won’t stop doing what we do. But as the tools available to those willing to mislead the public grow more advanced and widespread, it’s a wonder that some social media is removing, rather than strengthening, its checks against misinformation.
Matt Shea is a British documentary filmmaker, journalist and presenter. He is known for the VICE documentaries Iceman, Targeted Individuals, The Pink Cocaine Wave, Ravers Vs. Putin, and The Last Festival on Earth. He will be speaking at News Xchange on Monday 19th June.
Image courtesy of Vice Media