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The incel movement is waging a “war against women” and poses a growing threat to children, according to a report that calls on tech companies to intervene to stop the radicalisation of lonely men and boys online.
The incel – or ‘involuntarily celibate’ – movement is an online subculture involving men who feel unable to have sex or find love and express hostility and extreme resentment towards women.
Research into the leading incel forum found a “community of angry, belligerent and unapologetic” men that poses a “clear and present danger” to women and an “emerging threat to children”.
Users posted about rape every 29 minutes and the forum’s rules were changed six months ago to accommodate paedophilia.
More than a fifth of posts featured misogynist, racist, antisemitic or anti-LGBTQ language, with 16% of posts featuring misogynist slurs, the study said.
On the forum Sky News found posts saying “women should be sex slaves” and “I feel hate when I see a girl”.
The study of more than one million posts over 18 months found that posts mentioning mass murders increased by 59%.
Perpetrators of mass shootings are known to have been active in incel communities or discuss their ideas, including the Plymouth gunman Jake Davison, who killed five people including a three-year-old girl.
Researchers warned that “unchecked, incel communities have the potential to radicalise further” and called on tech companies to act.
‘Not lone wolves’
Imran Ahmed, chief executive of the Centre for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), a British non-profit group which carried out the study, said: “Incels are not lone wolves or socially isolated.
“They are in fact enmeshed in highly active communities with a coherent, evolving ideology that has radicalised further in the past 18 months.
“They are egging each other on to commit mass violence, normalising sexual violence against women and even codified their approval of sexualising children.”
UK pupil sought incels’ advice after ‘Prevent referral’
In some cases, boys as young as 15 are being led down a rabbit hole of hatred and extremism, the research says.
One user, given the pseudonym Carl in the report, posted on the forum asking for help after he claimed to have been flagged to Prevent for carrying a knife in his school bag.
Other forum members responded with advice on how to avoid scrutiny online and congratulated him on his decision to stop taking psychiatric medication.
Throughout the thread, Carl referred to prescribed psychiatric medicine as “jewpills”, itself a reference to an incel conspiracy theory that psychiatric medicine is part of a Jewish conspiracy to pacify white men.
The research was conducted by “scraping” forum posts and analysing members’ activity, trends and keywords.
The forum received an average of 2.6 million monthly visits, with 17,118 members. In the 18 months covered, only 4,057 wrote posts.
Almost half (43.8%) of traffic to the forum came from the US, with 7.5% from the UK.
Discourse is driven by 406 “power-users”, who produce 74.6% of all posts, some spending more than 10 hours a day on the forum.
The forum’s rules were changed in March from “do not sexualise minors” to “do not sexualise pre-pubescent minors”.
Incel content on YouTube
The study found that forum users most frequently shared content from YouTube, where incel channels have more than 136,000 subscribers and 24.2 million video views.
Davison subscribed to an incel content channel that YouTube has refused to take down despite public pressure, the CCDH researchers said.
Another channel posts videos of women covertly filmed in London.
The CCDH urged YouTube to take down all incel channels and called on Google to push “incelosphere” websites down search results.
Mr Ahmed said: “We find in this study a reflexive dynamic between misogynistic communities online and incels.
“They argue with each other, support each other, share ideas, promote each other’s lexicon and values. In short, they are brothers-in-arms in a war against women.
“That’s why a small subculture, numbering in the thousands, has had such an enormous effect.”
Sky News has asked YouTube for comment.
‘Not all violent’
Dr Lewys Brace, a senior lecturer at Exeter University specialising in online extremist radicalisation, including incel culture, told Sky News that he agreed with the study’s recommendations.
“The thing that concerns me personally most about this incel movement, is that people don’t actually need to look for this stuff to get to it,” he said.
Although he said that some people in the community posed a real threat to others, he stressed most are not violent.
“Obviously not everyone in this community is violent,” he said. “In fact, my research has shown that actual violent conversations are the minority of conversations on these platforms.”
The problem for law enforcement is telling the difference between someone acting out on the internet and someone who poses a threat, he said.
He added: “For me, the ones that concern me are the ones that take these ideas, and they’ve written long posts where they’ve integrated these ideas with their own personal offline experiences.”
Given the example of Davison posting long YouTube videos featuring incel ideas, Dr Brace said: “That’s exactly it. Those are exactly the kind of examples we should be concerned about.”
Origins of inceldom
Incel as a form of self-identification is thought to date from a website founded in the 1990s as support for people who found it hard to have sexual experiences.
The risk is that sexual frustration and the blame incels place on women is leveraged into violence.
The most notorious attack was carried out by Elliot Rodger, 22, who killed six people and himself in a rampage in California in 2014.
He left behind a 137-page “manifesto” and a YouTube video revealing that he carried out the attack because he could not secure a relationship with a woman, which in turn led to his hatred for those who were in relationships.
Rodger is frequently idolised and venerated in incel forums where he is sometimes referred to as the “Supreme Gentleman”.