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Social media and masculinity: What's the impact?

As one of the first generations to grow up fully in the digital age, young men's experiences online massively influence their perceptions of masculinity, themselves and those around them. 

Platforms like TikTok, YouTube and Instagram are more than just tools for communication; they're spaces where identities are formed, norms are challenged, and social pressures are intensified.


A young teenage boy with brown floppy hair wearing a grey coat, jeans and converse, sat on top of some brick steps on his phone. Behind him is a greyish blue wall. There are brown autumn leaves on the ground.

The report Being a Young Man Online published by eSafety in June 2024 provides a comprehensive look into how social media influences the experiences of young men. Drawing from this report, we will explore the multifaceted impact of social media on masculinity, examining key findings and statistics to understand the broader implications.

The Shaping of Masculine Identity Online

Young men today are navigating a complex digital landscape where traditional notions of masculinity are constantly being renegotiated and reinforced. Social media platforms, with their pervasive influence, play a significant role in this process. According to the eSafety report, 91% of young men aged 14-24 use social media daily, highlighting the extensive reach of these platforms in their lives.

The report reveals that social media is a double-edged sword for young men. On one hand, it offers opportunities for self-expression and connection with peers. On the other, it subjects them to intense scrutiny and the pressure to conform to idealised, unhealthy, or unrealistic versions of masculinity. 

62% of young men reported feeling pressured to present a certain image online, with physical appearance being a major focus. This pressure often stems from the pervasive culture of comparison fostered by social media, where users frequently measure themselves against the highly curated and often unrealistic portrayals of others. This can lead to low self esteem while fuelling a competitive drive to be seen as better than everyone else.

When you're constantly being fed photos and videos of gym bro bodies and high brow fashion brands, it's difficult to realise the wider picture of reality and not fall into the trap of constant comparison.

Two teenage boys stood inside a brick walled tunnel with white walls and graffiti. They're both holding their phones and looking at them. The boy on the left has blonde floppy hair hanging over his eyes and is wearing a white collared shirt with a black bag strap over his shoulder. The boy on the right is wearing a neon green t-shirt and has short brown hair.

The Role of Influencers and Online Communities

The report notes that 78% of young men follow at least one influencer on social media, and these influencers often serve as role models. However, the type of masculinity promoted by influencers can vary widely.

Male fitness influencers like Simeon Panda, Ulissesworld and Jeff Seid can often promote a hyper-masculine ideal characterised by physical strength and attractiveness. While this can motivate some young men to adopt healthier lifestyles, it can also contribute to body image issues. The report highlights that 48% of young men have felt insecure about their bodies due to content they have seen on social media.

The arguably most famous male influencer is Andrew Tate, who despite being banned from TikTok and YouTube for violent and misogynistic videos, has an online following of over 9 million. Tate embodies an unapologetic strain of misogyny, with one in five males aged 16 to 29 in the UK holding a positive view of him.

Sites like Reddit host communities, formed by young men, against the empowerment of women  where anti-feminist and sexist beliefs are promoted. These online spaces are what are known as the 'Manosphere', home to 'incels' ('involuntary celibates') and 'Men's Rights Activists'. These  sorts of forums have been linked to multiple acts of extreme violence against and murder of women

Another report from 2020 by HOPE not hate demonstrated how the manosphere influences young people’s beliefs about feminism; boys are repeating manosphere talking points in school and even harassing female teachers. The report found that 50% of young men aged 16-24 believe feminism makes it more difficult for men to succeed. Another report found that 16% of gen Z males felt it had done more harm than good.

Terms like 'incels' and 'manopshere' are popping up more and more as young men take to online forums. Therefore it's important for teachers and parents to be aware of the terminology used on these forums in order to stay informed and proactive. You can download our free glossary of terms here.

A dark and light purple gradient fade background with text on the right side reading "INCEL (noun). short for 'involuntary celibate'. A member of an online community of young men who consider themselves unable to attract women sexually, typically associated with views that are hostile towards women and men who are sexually active." On the left side are graphics of a person with their hood up sitting at a laptop, a brown haired man, a blonde woman, and three pill tablets: one red, one blue and one black.

Conversely, there are influencers and communities that challenge traditional norms of masculinity, advocating for more inclusive and diverse expressions of male identity. Marcus Rashford, Jordan Stephens and Brendan Fraser are all great examples of celebrities who encourage young men to embrace a broader range of traits and behaviours like emotional vulnerability and empathy. Jordan Stephens recently posted a clip of his speech in a debate at Cambridge University about how masculinity is fluid and not tailored to one sex. The clip has been viewed over 330K times and has nearly 10k likes.

The Impact on Mental Health

The mental health implications of social media use are a significant concern. The report indicates that 35% of young men have experienced mental health issues exacerbated by their online activity. Anxiety, depression, and stress are common, often linked to cyberbullying, online harassment, and the constant need for validation through likes and comments.

Cyberbullying remains a pervasive issue, with 27% of young men reporting having been bullied online. This form of harassment can be particularly damaging, as it often targets individuals' vulnerabilities and can be relentless. The anonymity afforded by social media can embolden bullies, making it difficult for victims to find respite. With 100% of 17-year-olds owning a phone, it can feel difficult to shut out the online world.

Additionally, the curated nature of social media can create a misleading perception of reality, leading to feelings of inadequacy. Young men may struggle to differentiate between authentic content and the highly edited, idealised images that dominate their feeds. This can lead to unrealistic expectations for themselves and others, further fueling mental health struggles.

Navigating Relationships and Sexuality

Social media also plays a crucial role in shaping young men's views on relationships and sexuality. The report shows that 58% of young men use social media to seek information about relationships and sexual health. 

Porn consumed online is one of the main sex educators for young people, which more often that not models sexual violence, oppression, dehumanisation and objectification as the norm in sex. 36% of young men reported that their understanding of sex was influenced by the pornography they encountered online. 

Recently there has been a focus in discussions on sex around 'choking'. Founder of Everyone's Invited Soma Sara said she'd heard stories from participants in school workshops of a 14-year-old girl being choked during her first kiss and a 15-year-old boy not stopping when she started crying because he thought it was “normal for girls to cry during sex”.

On a more positive note, social media can also facilitate meaningful conversations about consent, respect, and healthy relationships. Online campaigns like Everyone's Invited and educational content can raise awareness and promote positive behaviours. However, the challenge lies in helping young people to be able to discern credible information from harmful or misleading content.

A teenage boy with curly brown hair, wearing a pink t-shirt and black watch, holding up a smartphone to face the camera, pointing at it and smiling. Behind him is a plain white backdrop.

Strategies for Positive Engagement

Given the pervasive influence of social media, it is crucial to develop strategies that help young men navigate these platforms positively. The eSafety report suggests several approaches:

  1. Digital Literacy Education: Equipping young men with the skills to critically evaluate online content can help them navigate the digital landscape more effectively. This includes understanding the motives behind influencers' posts, recognising unrealistic portrayals, and distinguishing between credible and unreliable sources.

  2. Promoting Positive Role Models: Encouraging the visibility of diverse and positive representations of masculinity can provide young men with a broader range of role models. Highlighting influencers and content creators who promote healthy lifestyles, emotional well-being, and respectful relationships can counteract negative influences. In our Healthy Masculinity workshop for KS3 and above, we encourage participants to be positive role models and healthy masculinity leaders for others in their life.

  3. Support Networks: Establishing online and offline support networks can help young men cope with the pressures of social media. Peer support groups, mental health resources, and educational programmes can provide a safe space for discussing challenges and seeking help. Our workshops help young people to develop support networks by being more supportive and understanding of each other.

  4. Parental and Educational Involvement: Parents and educators play a crucial role in guiding young men through their online experiences. Open conversations about the impact of social media, setting healthy boundaries, and fostering critical thinking can help mitigate negative effects.

  5. Policy and Platform Changes: Advocating for changes at the platform level, such as stricter regulations on harmful content and better reporting mechanisms for cyberbullying, can create a safer online environment. Platforms should also promote positive content and initiatives that support mental health and well-being.

The impact of social media on young men's perceptions of masculinity is profound and multifaceted. While these platforms offer opportunities for connection and self-expression, they also pose significant challenges. The eSafety report provides valuable insights into these dynamics, highlighting the need for a balanced and informed approach to social media use.

By fostering digital literacy, promoting positive role models, and providing robust support systems, we can help young men navigate the complexities of social media in a healthy and empowering way. As society continues to grapple with the evolving digital landscape, it is crucial to ensure that young men are equipped with the tools and knowledge to thrive both online and offline.

If you'd like us to help your students be healthy masculinity leaders in their school and beyond, discover our Healthy Masculinity workshop and assembly for KS3 and above, or get in touch with one of our team.


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