Social media algorithms target young men, and research by the commissioner reveals they both experience and perpetuate online harms, including finding it normal to respond to abuse with abuse in gaming communities.

“Navigating adolescence and early adulthood has always been a confronting rite of passage, but this is one of the first generations to grow up in a world straddling the offline and online dimensions, with the online world becoming an increasingly potent force,” eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant said.

“There’s constant pressure for young men to conform to particular, often narrow and traditional, ideals about manhood.

“Young men are also coming of age against a backdrop of complicated and contested public discussions about what modern-day masculinity means, potentially making the process of figuring out who they are and what they stand for more confusing and fraught,” Inman Grant added.

A collaboration with Deakin University and the Queensland University of Technology, Being a young man online: Tensions, complexities and possibilities confirmed online environments are a powerful source of community, acceptance and friendships for young men.

However, conversations about their place in the world are often negative.

“There was also a feeling of being powerless as individuals, even though some participants recognised men hold a lot of structural power," Inman Grant said.

“And when a small number of harmful online influencers dominate the discussion of what it means to be a man, it’s no wonder young men feel uncertain about how to express their identity and place in the world.”

Women’s Minister Katy Gallagher said the research confirmed the new reality that young men were facing an online wave of influencing behaviours, including from harmful content.

“It’s really concerning because it has consequential impacts through the generations really, as we’re trying to address violence against women and children in this country,” she told ABC Radio on Friday.

It was important to balance masculine behaviours and perceptions of manhood, she said.

“It’s not easy and I’m not going to pretend it is, but it’s another front that we have to confront and respond to,” Gallagher said.

“These things are really hard. When you ban something it doesn’t mean people’s interest wanes or that children all of a sudden are not going to have access to that information.”

The research highlighted young men both experience and perpetuate online harms, with some young men, for example, describing online gaming communities as places where it is normal to respond to abuse with abuse.

The opposition says it would move to increase the minimum age for social media access to 16 if elected.

Deputy Liberal Leader Sussan Ley attacked large social media companies for profiting off kids.

“We have to push through this ... there are technological ways of doing this, it is perfectly possible,” she told Seven’s Sunrise.

The Federal Government is running a trial on age verification technology to determine the best way to protect children online.

Some $6.5 million has been put aside in the Federal Budget for the trial.

It was important to ensure any moves to protect children worked, Education Minister Jason Clare said.

“That’s the hard question, ‘how do you make it work?’,” he said on Sunrise.

“I think we all agree that social media is a cesspit. We all agree we don’t want our kids on it, it’s about how do you do it.”

Digital Rights Watch’s head of policy Samantha Floreani, recently cautioned against impulsive digital regulation.

“We simply cannot content-moderate and age-verify our way out of systemic misogyny and violence,” Floreani said on The Age website.

“Online harms warrant careful policy intervention, but many of the proposals put forward ... are riddled with assumptions, underdeveloped thinking, and seem cobbled together in response to the current political moment.”

Floreani said it was less than a year ago that the Government determined that age assurance technology is not sufficiently mature and comes with too many significant privacy and security risks to move forward with the [recently announced so-called ‘porn passport’] trial.

“Nothing about the maturity or risk has changed...” she said.

The Government was consulting about what the right age for social media access should be, Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said.

“We need the co-operation of the social media platforms ... we need to have social media platforms in Australia that are upholding Australian standards,” he said.

“There are already meant to be age-restricted services on social media.”

To translate insights provided by the latest eSafety Commissioner research into relevant online safety advice, the watchdog body is now consulting with relevant practitioners, including youth educator and advocate Daniel Principe, Movember, R4RespectE, Richie Hardcore, The Man Cave and The Men’s Project.

(with AAP)