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Can ChatGPT help reduce toxic masculinity?

Mustafa Naseem wearing a suit and glasses and smiling at the camera.

Tuesday, 09/05/2023

A quick Google search of ChatGPT will garner hundreds of thousands of news stories about the artificial intelligence chatbot. News of biased content, misinformation, lawsuits and the potential for AI to end humankind abound. 

Is it all bad? Maybe. But also, maybe not. 

University of Michigan School of Information clinical assistant professor Mustafa Naseem researches the social impact of technology and how to design platforms that help men become versions of themselves. Naseem says AI has the potential to help man navigate shame, access mental health care and become better fathers and partners. 

How do we get there? Better guardrails, good technology and lots and lots of patience. 

“There’s an idea of tech utopianism or tech positivism that believes technology can solve all the world’s problems that many CEOs share,” Naseem says. “I’m not in that camp. I’m more of a social determinist by training and alignment. I think humans create technologies and we have the ability to shape technology and society using it, depending on how we design it, how we limit the unintended consequences and the misuse of it.” 

For years, Naseem has been working in countries like Pakistan and India to innovate technologies that empower men and improve the health of women and children by engaging fathers. 

The Supper Abbu (Super Dad) Project, for example, launched in Pakistan in 2019 and provided a platform where men could ask questions and share stories about pregnancy and childcare. In Pakistan, men are often the decision makers of the household, but are not informed about critical health information. Super Abbu paved a shame-free way for men to ask questions, receive feedback and make better decisions. 

“There is this misunderstanding among public health officials that men aren’t interested in this kind of information, but it’s just that it’s a taboo topic,” Naseem said. “They may not be discussing it openly, but they are interested in the content.”

Shame, coupled with the inability to ask questions and a longstanding idea of men not being “interested” in improving the health outcomes of their families and themselves, is something Naseem has been tackling. 

Now Naseem is working on studying ChatGPT and how it may be used to help Pakistani men navigate toxic masculinity and anger issues, an area where mental health support is sparse. 

According to the World Health Organization, Pakistan has 0.19 psychiatrists per 100,000 residents

“It’s one of the lowest in the world,” Naseem says. “If you don’t have access to these resources, the question is can we start to amplify connections using tools like generative AI and provide support to people who desperately need it?” 

Low literacy rates is another big problem, Naseem says. Roughly 60 million people in Pakistan cannot read or write. Tools like ChatGPT can be developed in multiple languages and include speech to text options. These tools, integrated with technology that limits the scope of ChatGPT to mental health resources, can provide specific, timely and healthy resources for men in crisis. 

Naseem points to, a generative AI platform developed in Bahrain that is trained on a series of videos by Islamic scholar Mufti Menk. If a tool like this is developed in Pakistan it could yield huge returns. 

“If you design it to base responses on a specific training set, for instance, on online videos of a therapist such as Dr. Alok Kanojia, instead of the entire internet, and it cites its sources, the potential for it hallucinating and giving you fictitious or incorrect responses decreases,” he says. 

Naseem’s next step is identifying if access to good information changes behavior. There have been a number of studies that show ChatGPT does, in fact, affect human judgment

“Are people retaining information?” Naseem asks. “If yes, we can then begin to change human perception of masculine perception around topics like intimate partner violence or coercive control.” 


Read more about Mustafa Naseem’s work on Super Abbu

Check out Naseem’s publications, honors and award by visiting his UMSI faculty profile