Incel invasion: talking in the dark

February 22, 2023

College created with photograph by Raphael Brasileiro from Pexels

Owen (name changed) explores the dangers of misogynistic ideology

Involuntary celibates (incels) are a rising subculture of young men, operating online, who feel othered by society and unable to find romantic or sexual partners. When rejected they tend to blame women and society as a whole for failing them. These feelings of rejection or failure can lead them to engage in threatening behaviour, and in some cases resort to violence to achieve their goals.

Seeking out kindred spirits with similar feelings of inadequacy and loneliness, internet forums can become echo chambers for incels, amplifying their hatred and reflecting it back at them. This community feeling can inspire them to move from online, verbal attacks to violent, physical attacks in the real world.

In 2021, the BBC reported on Jake Davison who went on a violent rampage in Plymouth, killing five people before turning the gun on himself. In the investigation that followed, police found that Davison was active on several online forums promoting incel ideology.

Worryingly, these online forums have been referred to by some as the incelosphere, demonstrating how divorced from reality these places can be.

Incels are a small, but growing, dangerous online minority, who are increasingly coming to the attention of counter-terrorism officials. The Guardian reports that incels made up 1% of all referrals to the UK anti-extremism Prevent programme in the year to March 2022. There were 77 cases, showing that more and more young men are falling prey to their hateful propaganda.

Incels have highly misogynistic and anti-feminist beliefs. They often treat women as objects born only to service men

The vast majority of incels hate women, having highly misogynistic and anti-feminist beliefs. They often treat women as objects who exist only to serve and pleasure men. As absurd as this idea is, incels are not able to let go of the twisted concept. They hold very sexist and outdated views about a woman’s place in the world which can make their expectations unreasonably high when looking for a sexual partner.

Incels often believe a person’s attractiveness is predetermined by genetic factors, and that their own genetic makeup dooms them to a life of being rejected and inferior to others. They can feel frustrated and envious of other mens’ apparent successes. A lot of these men feel extremely socially isolated, inadequate and have low self-esteem which may fuel their hateful actions.

I discovered from my research that CREST, a body that examines potential threats to UK national security, has made it clear that incel ideology exhibits all of the hallmarks of an extremist ideology. The incel subculture’s views completely overlook the changing role of women in society as well as the complexity of social relationships in the modern age.

According to new figures by the Internet Watch Foundation, 11 to 13-year-old girls are at more risk than ever of being targeted by criminal predators. The anonymity of social media can be fraught with danger. Extremists lure vulnerable young people into conversations by pretending to be their age, pretending to have things in common with them and trying to strike up a friendship before sending more sexually suggestive content.

His messages quickly turned nasty when he realised she wasn’t interested in a sexual relationship with him

I was talking to my very good friend, Everly (name changed) about incel extremism. She told me about her experience when she was only 12. Everly was being targeted by a man posing online as a much younger person.

Everly, who at the time was feeling lonely and was having a tough time with her friends at school, gradually started to see the real intentions of this man. She realised he had extreme views of a woman’s place in the world. His messages quickly turned nasty when he realised she wasn’t interested in a sexual relationship with him.

“He was extremely angry, upset and offended by me not being interested in him sexually. He sent me threats saying he’d break into my house and attack me.” Everly got very frightened and blocked him after receiving these menacing messages. She made the brave decision to tell her family what was going on.

Everly was relatively lucky compared to some other victims of incels’ unwanted attentions. Some can turn to violence to get revenge on the society they feel have wronged them.

It’s important not to demonise everyone with incel-like beliefs, which can be rooted in mental health issues or feelings of intense loneliness or social isolation. Thankfully, there is support out there for men experiencing mental health issues which may be pushing them towards incel communities. Check out MAN UP, the men’s mental health charity. You can see their recommendations list for support here.

Parents, teachers and young people can access resources at Educate Against Hate to tackle radicalisation and promote inclusive values in their community.

Barnet Council offers comprehensive advice for staying safe online.

Part of Exposure’s Extreme Caution campaign, enabling young people to tackle online grooming and hate, supported by Young Barnet Foundation. Due to the sensitive nature of this project author names have been anonymised.

Exposure is a youth communications charity enabling young people to thrive creatively, for the good of others as well as themselves.

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