Briefing paper
5 February 2024

How does social media influence gender norms among adolescent boys?

Author: Stephanie Diepeveen, Diana Koester, Rachel Marcus
Published by: ALIGN
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Cover of social media report

This ALIGN briefing note delves into the complex relationship between boys' social media use and its impact on gender norms.

Anecdotal evidence implies clear links between social media use and a rise of discriminatory gender norms in adolescent boys, but the research to date suggests it is not a straightforward cause and effect relationship. Personal experiences, pre-existing attitudes, social context, and platform design all play pivotal roles in influencing boys' perspectives towards gender norms.

This ALIGN briefing outlines the current evidence to give nuanced insights from global research on the impact of social media use on adolescent boys, while recognising this area remains largely underexplored.

Key findings reveal that features like temporary content and anonymity create opportunities for boys to express both pro-feminist and misogynistic views online, while peer influence remains a strong factor in shaping their specific views of masculinity.

Based on the evidence, this briefing explores the policy implications to provide actionable recommendations for policymakers and civil society actors, aiming to support positive gender norms among boys on social media.

Key messages:

  • Many factors influence the impact of boys’ social media engagement on their attitudes to gender equality including: personal experience and social context, platform design, and the types of social interactions they engage in online.
  • Some evidence suggests there are links between some discriminatory gender norms among adolescent boys and young men, and social media use to sexist content online. But, there is not a simple ‘cause and effect’ relationship between social media use and harmful gender attitudes. Adolescents may select or be shown content that reflects their pre-existing interests and attitudes.
  • Social media platform features, such as temporary content and anonymity, as well as the nature of online and peer interactions, can impact gender norms for example views around masculinity.
  • To support positive gender norms among boys on social media, policymakers should seek to: increase platforms’ responsibilities in moderating misogynistic content; invest in supportive offline environments for adolescent boys; create safe online spaces for young people; invest in critical media and digital literacy skills education for young people; and invest in more diverse research.