Arts & Entertainment, Internet

Kanye West and the spectre of toxic masculinity on Twitter

Content Warning: Discussions of hate speech, bullying, and harassment.

Since the inception of social media, online bullying and harassment have abounded, with platforms being used by certain figures to hide behind a screen without facing consequences head-on. At the scale of celebrities, the impacts of such bullying are magnified. People like Kanye West, Elon Musk, and Donald Trump can and have incite violence among not only their supporters but susceptible young users as well. 

These celebrities are all convinced that their right to “free” speech is being infringed upon, and then they double down and use this as a justification to spread hate speech. Violence and power are core tenets of the patriarchy and reinforces toxic masculinity, and a fear of being weak leads men to seek control by enacting violence on others, manifesting as online bigotry. Many men are taught from a young age not to express their emotions or to be vulnerable, an unfortunate fact that only heightens social media’s role in radicalizing them.

Since the start of Kanye’s numerous controversies, it has been hard for social media users to look away from the ensuing car crash. Just in the last month, he wore a White Lives Matter shirt, made atrocious anti-Semitic comments on Instagram and Twitter, and falsely claimed that George Floyd’s death was from a fentanyl overdose. So many horrendous statements have come before these, but those were met with surprisingly few consequences for his career. Because of his anti-Semitic comments, West has been dropped from many collaborators, including Adidas and Balenciaga

Many commentators and fans have used Ye’s bipolar disorder as an excuse for his violent statements in the past few years, a line of argument that incorrectly associates bipolar disorder with racism and alienates racialized people with mental illnesses. On SiriusXM radio, Howard Stern voiced his opinion: “If he’s so mentally ill, why don’t they appoint a conservator as they did with poor Britney Spears?” Stern brings up a good point about sexism: Historically, male celebrities are able to get away with much more than women. For example, in the past, Taylor Swift has been put under much scrutiny for her personal and dating life, while male celebrities are not typically criticized and even idolized. A core aspect of toxic masculinity is the treatment of women on the internet, seen in the rising threat of incel behaviour created by the patriarchy. 

West has since been banned on Twitter and Instagram, and amidst all the controversy, Musk, an enabler of right-wing ideologies, has bought Twitter for $44B. Now in control of such a popular app, he has publicly spoken of his intent to limit censorship, which has already led to a spike in online violence and the use of slurs in tweets. Moreover, Musk is planning on unbanning Trump, whose account was removed following the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol in January 2021. These men enjoy exploiting their influence and controlling narratives, and they are doing so by purchasing social media apps. They are able to reinstate themselves despite their harmful rhetoric and keep themselves relevant through their money and influence. 

With such a concentration of echo chambers online, the ideas or political views individuals may hold are what they are typically exposed to, as online content is catered explicitly toward reflecting one’s existing beliefs. Bigoted opinions expressed by wealthy, powerful men run the risk of resonating with other people with similar views, who will feel empowered and justified in their hate, leading to violence offline. The influence and the real impact that people like West, Musk, and Trump possess proves the real issue with toxic masculinity in social media: It places xenophobia, sexism and hatred as social fact and puts them into practice. This online activity has the power to further incite hate against women, queer and trans people, and racial minorities. In turn, this gives more power to those who already have it and further marginalizes those with smaller voices and lesser platforms. 

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