The Conversation: The online ‘hierarchy of credibility’ that fuels influencers like Andrew Tate



The arrest of influencer Andrew Tate in Romania on charges of sex trafficking and sexual abuse will do little to deter his supporters. For some time now, those outside his sphere of influence have looked on bemused as to how he appears to have accumulated so much power over young people.

The fact is that Tate, like many others, has tapped into the understanding that people who feel disenfranchised seek leadership, guidance, and hope via the internet. He is part of a new social hierarchy that is forming around people who feel let down by conventional leaders.

Within my research, I argue that the legitimacy and credibility of the British and US governments has corroded since the turn of the century. Trust in the British government dropped to an all-time low in 2021.

There have been many controversial issues and political indignities such as the invasion of Iraq, the British parliamentary expenses scandal, the Edward Snowden leaks of government surveillance, economic austerity, failed Brexit promises, and, most recently, COVID PPE deals that have subsequently come under scrutiny. Every example of unethical government behaviour undermines any illusion that political elites are morally and intellectually superior to the people they lead and contributes to a decline in public faith.

The internet and social media have exacerbated this problem. We, the public, can share information like never before and critique the people who sit at the top of a long-standing hierarchy of credibility. Politicians have fewer stones under which to hide, fuelling the erosion of their leadership credentials.

Sociologist Howard Becker’s hierarchy of credibility suggests a way to determine who defines reality and what the truth should be. It is grounded in the principle that those belonging to the highest-ranking social groups have the authority and the credibility to define and decipher events.

Other sociologists, such as Stanley CohenStuart Hall and Chas Critcher have added the idea that social actors such as political leaders, police and the media occupy high positions in the mainstream hierarchy. They frame phenomena on behalf of the rest of us at the grassroots level.

One part of this hierarchy is the moral entrepreneur. This is a person or organisation occupying the middle rungs of society, often campaigning in favour of a particular social issue within the mainstream social system. They strive to challenge narratives and gain support for their causes.

Finally, at the bottom of the mainstream hierarchy are “laymen”, whose knowledge and understanding of world events is given to them by those at the top. 

Just as social media has enabled us to witness more elite scandal and unethical behaviour than ever before, it has also made it possible for alternative hierarchies to emerge. It is within these hierarchies that people like Tate thrive.

The internet has provided platforms for the fringes of society to voice their discontent and connect with like-minded others. And these new hierarchies are the perfect environment for people who have lost faith in the mainstream social ordering and in the willingness of conventional leaders to hold their best interests at heart. Or, as is often the case with Andrew Tate’s followers, those who are too young and impressionable to understand the difference.

At the most extreme tip of this hierarchy, populist political figures such as Donald Trump and conspiracy theorists such as Alex Jones hold strong credulity and high positions. Their distorted takes on world events are eagerly digested by disenfranchised followers who believe that they hold the answers to ongoing issues. These figures assume leadership roles, talk expertly on issues with little or flawed information, and profess populist remedies to such issues.

Tate slots in as what might be described as an “alt-moral entrepreneur” within this alternative online global hierarchy. His messages are projected as advice and guidance for “lost men” rather than being presented as full-blown conspiracy theories. Online videos disseminated by followers often portray Tate as an advice giver and a solver of men’s issues, akin to the moral entrepreneurs of the mainstream hierarchy.

Like many others, I have been bombarded via YouTube with videos of Tate’s preaching on various podcasts, shared by like-minded influencers (male and female) espousing similar views. He professes cures for men feeling lost in a system portrayed as oppressive to them, managed by political figureheads lacking moral credibility.

Tate and his brother, Tristan, often talk of their difficult “brokie” days, and how they rose to fame and attained wealth, suggesting such a route as achievable to others with the right mindset. Tate’s road map of how to go from “rags to riches” via the unethical treatment of women will have serious repercussions for today’s youth. 

Mainstream leaders are yet to work out how to deal with these emerging online hierarchies. During a cost of living crisis where social and economic resources are being stretched to their limits, it is inevitable that some will suffer more than others.

If elected leaders can’t help the most disadvantaged, its natural that those same people will seek out help elsewhere to alleviate their hardship. It is here that political leaders fall short, failing to understand the sway that figures such as Tate have, and how such sway actively harms both the legitimacy of their elected leadership, and the democratic process itself.

Tate and others like him are a warning to the mainstream elite hierarchy that social changes are needed to prevent his kind from targeting and corrupting young men and women. People have moved beyond accepting political rhetoric with no end product, and the internet provides a means for people to step outside the mainstream hierarchy in search of alternatives.

It isn’t just a matter of silencing harmful rhetoric through cancellation. Political leaders need to meaningfully instil changes that lead to a renewed faith in their ability to create real prosperity. The alternative is Andrew Tate.

Article written by Paul French, School of Law and originally published on The Conversation.



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