This paper discusses how online communities can radicalize users by spreading and developing dangerous ideologies. To achieve this, an analysis has been made of the “incel” (involuntary celibate) community whose members generally gather around online forums to discuss their issues with dating, and who often spread misogynistic beliefs and advocate for violent retribution against women. The paper considers why this community can be attractive for young men, how they interact in it, the language that is used in it, the radicalization of members, and how the internet has helped facilitate the growth of this group. It concludes that the incel community takes advantage of online platforms (mainly forums) to spread misogynistic ideology which can have the effect of radicalising users and instilling within them dangerous beliefs.
Keywords: incel, community, online community, radicalization, misogyny, online forum
Misogynistic radicalization of users in the online incel community
The internet has provided a space for individuals to form connections and communities with people who share similar interests, without being restricted by their geographic location (Delanty, 2018). While many of the communities that are formed online can be extremely positive for individuals, who may gain a sense of belonging that they may not be getting in their off-line lives (Holt et al., 2016; Simi & Futrell, 2010), some of the ideologies that are spread in these spaces can be quite toxic and can contribute to the radicalization of their members (O’Malley, 2020). In 2018 Alex Minnassian killed 10 people (mostly women) when he drove a rental van into pedestrians on a busy footpath in Toronto, earlier that day he referred to the “incel rebellion” in a Facebook post as justification for his actions (BBC, 2018a). The incel, or involuntary celibate, community is a group of mostly young men aged between 18 and 25 who gather in online forums to discuss their issues with dating and attempt to find meaning in their rejection from popular culture (Tolentino, 2018). Members of the group justify their misogynistic ideas by presenting women as inherently evil and argue that they have been given too much power in today’s social environment (Jaki et al., 2019). The community can be attractive for young men as it often engages in discussion around normative anxieties about dating and social culture (Tolentino, 2018). However, once users are entrenched in the community they are exposed to misogynistic ideals, degrading language and calls for violent retribution which may cause them to develop radical beliefs (O’Malley, 2020). The incel community takes advantage of online platforms (mainly forums) to preach their misogynistic ideology which can have the effect of radicalising users and instilling within them dangerous opinions.
The rise of the internet has brought with it a myriad of web 2.0 tools that have given users the ability to form connections and communities without being restricted by their geographic location (Delanty, 2018). The way these communities organise themselves can vary, though the incel community mainly exists on online forums like the one found at incel.is. Forums are online communities that provide a space for participants to engage with specific areas of discussion (Holt, 2007). Users can escape their more traditional social hierarchies, that may be rigid and expect a high degree of conformity, and participate in a variety of on-line forums that they may find more interesting and liberating (Hampton & Wellman, 2018). These shared online spaces can be extremely positive for individuals who can find a sense of belonging that they may not be getting in their off-line life (Holt et al., 2016; Simi & Futrell, 2010). The problem with some of these communities, though, is that they can cause the formation of dangerous sub-cultures where members develop a shared ideology that can justify deviant and criminal behaviour (Holt, 2007).
The incel, or involuntary celibate, community is a group of mostly young men aged between 18 and 25 who gather in online forums to discuss their issues with dating and try to find meaning in their rejection from popular culture (Tolentino, 2018). The community can be an attractive option for young, outcast men as they often engage in rhetoric that reflects normative anxieties for them (Tolentino, 2018). The community, that was established around these normative anxieties, has now developed a delusional and dangerous ideology to attempt to make sense of their social rejection (O’Malley et al., 2020). This ideology shifts responsibility away from themselves and puts the blame mainly on women who are seen as having an unfair and disproportionate amount of power in today’s social environment (Jaki et al., 2019). In a study of posts on incel forums, analyses found that the community was structured around five interrelated normative orders: the sexual market, women as naturally evil, legitimizing masculinity, male oppression, and violence (O’Malley et al., 2020). A key characteristic of the incel community, as with other deviant sub-cultures, is that it operates in rejection of the values of the dominant culture (Quinn & Forsyth, 2005). Their dangerous ideology and rejection of cultural norms makes this community a significant threat as it can have the effect of radicalizing young members who might not have been exposed to such toxic beliefs if they had not found them online (Holt et al., 2019). There is growing evidence of subcultures that directly target women for their perceived role in subjugating men (Gottell & Dutton, 2016) and the incel community is one that poses a significant threat to the misogynistic radicalisation of young men.
There are a number of ways that the incel community works to radicalise young men and entrench them within their toxic community (Holt et al., 2016). Pseudonyms are adopted by the users of incel forums which gives new users a sense of safety as they are able to explore and express ideas without the consequence of social rejection from their physical peer group (Holt et al., 2016). New users are then freer to explore radical beliefs that they may not be exposed to in their off-line lives (Holt et al., 2019). The forums are also set up so that individuals do not need to directly engage with threads to accept their content, they are able to just browse through the posts to find a sense of belonging and then possibly accept the radical ideology (Hamm & Spaaij, 2017; Holt et al., 2019).
New users who may have come across one of these forums as a result of their genuine feelings of isolation and loneliness are then exposed to a mixture of content ranging from genuine advice forums to radical ideology and hate speech (O’Malley et al., 2020). This paper will focus on some of the content analysed by O’Malley et al. in 2020 in which the authors looked at over 8000 posts to identify the norms, values and beliefs of the incel community. In the study, analyses found that the community was structured around five interrelated normative orders: the sexual market, women as naturally evil, legitimizing masculinity, male oppression, and violence (O’Malley et. al, 2020). On one incel website, users shared stories of men murdering women and “normies” (normal looking men) into a folder named “lifefuel”, stories such as these were intended to provide incels with a sense of joy as they felt that their supposed enemies were being dealt some sort of justice (O’Malley et al., 2020). Throughout the forums there were also various posts denigrating women and suggesting that they were inherently evil. One user, f1recel, posted: “Women use lies to manipulate men into doing what they want. It’s nothing except how nature has designed them.” By pushing the narrative that women are inherently evil, users can then try to justify violent retribution. The following is a statement posted on the incel thread incel.me:
“I really want to kill this whore. I would punch her in her face over and over again and force her to say this phrase over and over again: “Teehee you are not entitled to this, but I am entitled to anything, now rot.” I will make her rot in hell for sure. I will turn her life into a living hell.” (O’Malley, 2020)
The type of violent rhetoric shown above is a common theme throughout incel threads and can have the effect of radicalising new users (O’Malley et al., 2020). While expressing normal feelings of anxiety about romantic relationships may be expected from men in this age group, the type of content being posted on these forums suggest a communal willingness and desire to act on these feelings with violence (Baele et al., 2019) which should be cause for concern.
Members of the incel forums further develop their sense of community and signal their belonging by using language that is exclusive to them (Hamm, 2002, Holt, 2010). Women are regularly degraded with language that is aimed to present them as the enemy of the community: “Femoid” is a term used to refer to all women and acts to reinforce the incel belief that women are machine-like in their cruelty; “Stacy” is used to describe attractive women who are presented as particularly cruel; and “roasty” is used to denigrate sexually active women (Baele et al., 2019). Users who wish to become further entrenched within the community will adopt this type of degrading language to prove their attachment to the sub-culture and identify outsiders (Hamm, 2002, Holt, 2010). Those who seek acceptance by the group will first have to adopt the misogynistic language that is often used to advocate for violent retribution against women. As a result, members that progress within the community are likely to become more radical in their beliefs with time.
Whilst many of the violent threats are mainly performative, there have been several examples of real-world violence that have been committed by incels (Baele et al., 2019). In 2014, Elliot Rodger killed six people in a stabbing and shooting spree in Isla Vista, California (BBC, 2018b). Before committing suicide, he uploaded a “retribution” video to YouTube which is full of the type of incel rhetoric that can be seen online (BBC, 2018b). In the video, Rodger talks of how he had “no choice but to exact revenge on the society” that had “denied” him sex and love (BBC, 2018b). In another case in 2018, Alex Minassian killed ten people (predominately women) when he drove a rental van into pedestrians on a busy pavement (BBC, 2018a). Earlier that day, Minassian posted this to his Facebook account: “The Incel Rebellion has already begun! …”(BBC, 2018a). The link between the incel community and real-world violence is quite clear. This is not surprising as it has been argued that sub-cultural members can become entrenched into deviant norms that free them from traditional social constraints (Cohen, 1955). Members who commit their acts of violent “retribution” against what they perceive to be a dominant an oppressive culture are less worried about what that dominant culture thinks of them. Instead, they may take comfort in the knowledge that the members of the incel community will likely encourage their actions.
There are a number of ways in which the internet and web 2.0 platforms have helped facilitate the forming of toxic communities and the radicalisation of some users (Holt et al., 2016). The perceived safety of online spaces allows users to engage with content that they may not share in public out of fear of social rejection (Holt et al., 2016). Also, individuals aren’t required to directly engage with others to be exposed to radical beliefs, they only need to scroll through the content on radical pages (Hamm & Spaaij, 2017; Holt et al., 2019). Once users become entrenched in an online community it has been argued that they can also become immersed in “echo chambers”. Echo chambers occur when users on a platform mostly interact with and are exposed to people who share similar ideological beliefs, which can cause them to have a distorted view of the conversation around a particular topic (Du & Gregory, 2017). It is imperative to consider how the internet is being used to form and develop dangerous ideologies, such as that of the incel community, so that strategies to disrupt the radicalisation of users can be developed.
The incel community takes advantage of online platforms (mainly forums) to preach their misogynistic ideology which can have the effect of radicalising users and instilling within them dangerous beliefs. The community acts as a safe and insular environment for those who have struggled with dating and feel that they have been rejected by the dominant culture and who may harbour genuine feelings of sadness and loneliness as a result. The community then plays on these feeling by regularly presenting the argument that women are inherently evil and deserving of violent retribution. In this way, users can shift any blame for their romantic failures away from themselves and onto women who are presented as the source of their discontent. Further research into how new users are exposed to the incel community may prove useful in combatting the radicalisation of young men in the future. The internet has provided spaces for toxic subcultures to develop and grow, and it is important to understand how they can radicalise new users so that steps can be taken to disrupt this process.
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23 thoughts on “Misogynistic radicalization of users in the online incel community”
Wow such a great paper!!!
I didn’t know anything regarding incels before so reading your work opened my eyes to an array of human interaction and misogyny that I was not aware of. I am intrigued to see how the members of this community act in online dating, although this is not directly related to your paper, it would interesting to see how they react to something like online dating applications considering that resources say that women are the predominat sexual selectors for the heterosexual matchings (UnHerd, 2020). The article written by Bloodworth (UnHerd, 2020) believes that one the greatest contributing factors to the rise of incel culture is the changes in dating practices, considering in pervious generations there was greater societal pressure for women to settle down at a young age, therefor in modern times due to the sexual revolution are inclined to spend more time finding their ideal partner.
UnHerd. (2021). Why Incels Are the Losers in the Age of Tinder. Retrieved from https://unherd.com/2020/02/why-incels-are-the-losers-in-the-age-of-tinder/
Hi Cameron, wow – what an interesting topic! Your paper is structured well and your topic and stance is clear, a very intriguing read!
I’m really glad you referred me to your paper after commenting on mine, as I do believe that our papers do have similar underlying themes. As you mentioned in your comment on my paper, the aspect on anonymity clearly plays a clear role within these incel groups, and after conducting a little bit of my own research, I found that there was truly a divide on how people felt about the ability to remain anonymous on forums such as these, which can be seen to encourage hate speech and even violence. On one side, who are we to stop freedom of speech? Blogs and forums are built for this purpose, for those to come together and share their opinions, with anonymity being that safety barrier from judgement. However, being able to post anonymously can also allow individuals to feel unaccountable for their comments and their potential repercussions (Ntoumenopoulos, 2020). In saying this, I’d love to know your thoughts specifically on the aspect of anonymity in this particular situation of the incel forums, hopefully assessing both the potential positive and negative outlooks?
A great paper and a very interesting topic!
Ntoumenopoulos, T. (2020, May 11). The role of Web 2.0 in the rise of online hate groups such as incels. Debating Communities and Networks XI. https://networkconference.netstudies.org/2020Curtin/2020/05/11/the-role-of-web-2-0-in-the-rise-of-online-hate-groups-such-as-incels/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-role-of-web-2-0-in-the-rise-of-online-hate-groups-such-as-incels
Thanks for the comment! You’ve asked a really good (but hard) question about the positive and negatives of anonymity online. If you’re asking me if anonymity is a good thing in relation to the incel community, I would say definitely not. Members of the community use the guise of anonymity to preach misogynistic ideology and spout violent rhetoric which tends to have the effect of radicalising themselves and others. They are able to do this without accountability as their words can’t really be linked back to them easily. If users had to expose their real-world identity to participate in the incel community I feel that they would be a lot more careful with their language out of fear of being rejected or chastised by their real-world peers. I suppose an argument could be made that young men with genuine feelings of social anxiety around their romantic failures should be able to seek out help anonymously online, but I feel the incel community has devolved into something that is completely toxic and harmful for those who become entrenched in it.
There are so many examples of how anonymity online can be used beneficially though: young members of the LGBTQ community are able to explore their identity without completely revealing it to their real-world peers, citizens under oppressive regimes are able to expose their government with a bit more safety, people in abusive relationships are able to seek help without their partners finding out, and the list could go on. So, anonymity is good in many cases, but when it comes to incels I think they need to be held accountable for the damaging ideology they are spreading. But it’s hard to have your cake and eat it too!
What do you think? Would you prefer it if the internet continue to allow spaces for anonymity or would you rather there be no anonymity at all?
Regarding incels, I completely agree with what you’ve said here, especially what you mentioned about anonymity helping those in communities such as the LGBTQ community. As you know, my paper looked into anonymity in fair detail, yet I don’t think it is a concept that anyone could give a yes or no, straight forward answer on. Of course anonymity has its problems, as it allows room for online abuse and bullying without the attacker being held accountable, alongside many other scenarios. However, like you said, in groups where people may be looking for advice regarding something that they may be uncomfortable disclosing publicly, such as domestic violence or even one’s sexuality, I believe anonymity can be a resourceful tool for individuals to have a safe way to communicate without fear.
Definitely an interesting concept that I’d love to do a bit more further research into honestly. Well done again! Caitlin
I love your paper and its disection of incels. You have created a very comprehensive explaination of how warped their mindset can be. My personal experience with incels is mostly through my usage of Reddit, where there used to be a known incel subreddit which is now banned (although they’ve probably moved elsewhere). I remember looking at the posts so curiously, like I was observing animals at a zoo.
I’m curious, what made you want to write about incels? And what’s your experience been with them/the concept of it? As far as I know, I’ve never personally been in direct contact with any and hopefully won’t be any time soon.
Thanks for the comment and the kudos! Yea I found out that there was an incel sub-reddit in my research for this paper until reddit made the call to ban it. I usually get a bit nervous when social media companies start deciding what people are allowed to say and what communities are allowed to form but I think in this case it was a good call, would you agree? Did you regularly check in on the disgusting absurdity of what was going on on the incel sub-reddit?
To be honest, I didn’t know much about the incel community before I started researching them for my paper. I’d read a few articles on them and I was aware that some members, like Elliot Rodger, had murdered people whilst spouting their misogynistic ideology. I suppose what made me want to write a paper on them was to find out for myself what was actually going on in their community to make some of their members commit such horrific crimes. And I definitely shared your feeling of “observing animals at a zoo” when I started looking through their threads, some of the ideas they come up with are ridiculous. I don’t think I’ve ever met an incel in the real-world, but I doubt that they would be too keen to reveal that side of their identity to people that they know aren’t apart of their community.
BBC. (2018, April 28). Elliot Rodger: How misogynist killer became “incel hero”. BBC. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-43892189
With Reddit priding itself on allowing a space/community for any and every person, it definitely is a bit concerning when they wave the banhammer around. But from what I saw, it was a cesspit that I had no issues with being removed.
I barely interacted with r/incels, mostly knowing of it through people’s joking comments about its content, but my strongest memory of the subreddit was when someone had uncovered an r/incel user posing as a women asking for tips on how to avoid being sexually assulted (or something of the like). Connecting the dots, it seemed as if the r/incel user wanted to figure out the best way to sexually assult women. If memory serves me, I believe this event prompted the subreddit’s ban.
After being amused at how ridiculous their thoughts are, seeing real world consequences of the incel ideology is particularly unnerving.
I hadn’t heard of the ‘incel community’ before I read your paper, pretty confronting some of the things going on in this space.
I think your point about anonymity was interesting, as groups with this sort of hateful rhetoric can only operate with this comfort. I imagine a lot of the users operate with VPNs and other technological aids to hide themselves better.
I found it interesting when you said that new users gain acceptance by adopting misogynistic language used in this community. I think this is a pretty common thing in online communities. Obviously this is an extreme example of this idea, but I have been a part of Reddit communities where I have seen similair trends emerging regarding popularity of comments being related to niche, community specific language being used.
Do you think that some people within the ‘incel community’ are only participating in some of the more extreme parts of this space to feel as if they fit in somewhere? As in, do you think there are some members posting hateful, extreme comments just to get social gratification in some way without actually having these strong feelings?
Interested to hear your thoughts.
Thanks for the comment. Yea I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the users are operating with VPNs or other technological aids to better hide themselves as the incel community as a whole seems quite tech-savy. And yea I think adopting the language of many online communities is part of being accepted within them.
As for whether or not I think that some people within the incel community are only participating in some of the more extreme content to fit in or for social gratification: I think that it’s true that many of them are. I would say that most of the violent threats towards women that the users share amongst themselves are mostly performative and they do so because they think it is humorous or because they are trying to gain acceptance. I say this because the amount of violent threats that are made towards women are so numerous and vulgar that it would be extreme unlikely that they all actually occurred. The problem is that they sometimes aren’t just performative. I think that the consistent performative displays of violence against women that are occurring in this community can have the effect of normalising it for some users. The result can be that users actually go out into the world and commit horrible acts of violence with the belief that they are backed by a community of like-minded people, as we saw with Alex Minassian in Toronto (BBC, 2018).
I would also say that whilst it is true that some of the violent threats that occur on the incel threads are performative, I would say that the main misogynistic ideology that underpins the community is something that most regular users genuinely believe and this should be enough to cause concern in itself.
I’d be keen to hear if you agree? Also, you said that you weren’t familiar to the incel community before reading my paper but I’d be interested to hear if you’ve come across an online community that has any similarities?
BBC. (2018, April 25). Alek Minassian Toronto van attack suspect praised “incel” killer. BBC. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-43883052
Well done on a well-researched paper and for giving me nightmares tonight.
Thank you for educating me on what an Incel actually is – it’s tossed around a lot within the comments section on socials and I actually had no idea that an incel was this focused on women-hating.
This conference is hosting many papers on #metoo and feminisim – how do you think these topics align with your topic? Do you think the attitudes promoted by incels result in perpetuating misogyny in real-life communities also?
If incels are radicalized, can they be de-radicalized? This is truly terrifying stuff.
Thanks for the kudos and sorry about the nightmares!
Yea, once you start looking through the threads and websites of the incel community it isn’t hard to find some of the disgusting beliefs many of them preach. It is really troubling because this community has the potential to indoctrinate young men, who may have genuine feelings of anxiety about their inability to find a partner, with misogynistic ideologies that put the blame on women.
I have noticed many papers on how social media is being used to help feminist movements gain traction which is great. But I think what my paper shows is that whilst the internet is being used to help grow positive, progressive movements it is, in the same way, being used to grow dangerous movements like that of the incels. I think my paper also shows why there is still a need for feminist movements as it clearly shows that misogynistic communities still exist. Whilst traditional forms of overt real-world sexism may be rarer, you can certainly find communities online where misogyny is rampant.
I also think that the attitudes of any online community have the potential to leak into real-world communities. In the same way that positive political movements online can result in real-world change, the misogynistic ideology of the incel community has the potential to infect real-world communities.
And can they be de-radicalized? Yes, but I think it just gets harder and harder the more an individual becomes entrenched in the community. I think maybe the best hope would be the establishment of a more positive community that may be able to help young men with their anxieties about dating without instilling within them such a hateful ideology. Maybe this could help steer some users away from the incel community. But maybe some of them are too far gone, what do you think?
Thanks for the reply.
Misogyny online is not just perpetrated by men sadly as I have discovered in my research but also by women, mostly inadvertently. Early studies on how men and women were anticipated to engage differently in online communities show a different communication style leading towards women being shut out of online communication due to being more polite which created a need for female-dominated online communities (Barak, 2005 as cited in Pedersen & Smithson 2013, p1). However, over the course of time, these female-dominated online communities like the mum-centric communities mentioned in my paper promote patriarchial ideals about how women should act and be, for instance how mothers should be well kept, and on top of all the domestic duties while raising happy children – referred to by Friedman (2010) as the patriarchial motherhood. As a woman, I have to ask myself how we stop misogyny happening in our real life and online communities when women themselves don’t understand the implications of their own expectations on themselves and others?
Barak, A. (2005). Sexual harassment on the internet. Soc. Sci. Comput. Rev., 23(1), 77–92. https://doi.org/10.1177/0894439304271540
Friedman, M. (2010). It Takes a (Virtual) Village: Mothering on the Internet. In A. O’Reilly (Ed.), Twenty-First Century Motherhood: Experience, Identity, Policy, Agency (pp. 352-365). Columbia University Press. https://doi.org/10.7312/orei14966.26
Smithson, J., & Pedersen, S. (2010). Membership and Activity in an Online Parenting Community. In (Vol. 1, pp. 88-103). https://www-igi-global-com.dbgw.lis.curtin.edu.au/gateway/chapter/42773?ct=-8585852004224220657
Communities of women contributing to the perpetuation of misognystic ideology isn’t something that I’ve noticed but I’d love to give your paper a read if you have the link to it?
Hi Cameron, yes please feel free to read! Would love to know your thoughts:
It so scary thinking about these toxic echo chambers filled with hate towards women. I find it hard to understand.
Thanks for the insight into these groups, really interesting (though terrifying!)
Yea I know, the radicalisation of people who become immersed in these toxic online communities is a real concern. It was actually quite difficult to look through a lot of the horrible content that the incel community was posting on their website when I was doing the research for my essay. Are there any other communities that you’ve noticed online that are spreading dangerous ideologies to a similar extent?
Yes, the covid deniers spring to mind!
Pseudo scientific information being circulated and reposted means that some people living in a covid denying bubble have very fixed views. I of course live in a covid medical community bubble and I think my views are correct with the same certainty!
I had an online argument with a parent at school this week who claimed that wearing face masks had been proven to be dangerous. The parent was trying to prevent our kids wearing masks on a school bus. They cited very dubious research in support of their belief.
I feel your pain Sonia, my brother is pretty much convinced that covid is a hoax and it’s almost impossible to have an argument with him when we are both working off different “facts”.
Thanks for the comment Amelia,
Completely agree with your input about how people with feelings of inadequacy actively turn to social media platforms because of their desire to feel valued, and to garner self-affirmation. I’ve just had a look at that paper you referenced (Grieve et al., 2019) and a lot of the points made there are very relevant to my paper, thanks. Also, that’s a really good question about how successful communities, such as the incel community, would be without the internet. I think they would struggle. The toxic opinions that are held by those in the incel community only exist in the minority so it would be much harder for them to find like-minded individuals in their traditional communities. In fact, it’s quite likely that if they were to express their opinions openly to their community they would be rejected. This could, in many cases, cause them to change their views to be more aligned with the culture they inhabit. The internet provides a space where people who share toxic beliefs can establish sub-cultures, and so they can continue to become radicalised in their way of thinking without feeling the need to conform to their more traditional, real-world communities. In the incel community, many users post anonymously and the perceived safety of online spaces allows them to engage with content that they may not share in public out of fear of social rejection (Holt et al., 2016). I think the internet has definitely provided a space for dangerous sub-cultures to form in a way that wouldn’t have been possible without it. It’s definitely something that we need to consider as it is pretty clear that the existence of these types of communities are having the effect of further radicalising their users (O’Malley, 2020). What are your thoughts Amelia?
Holt, T. J., Freilich, J. D., Chermak, S. M. (2016). Internet-based radicalization as enculturation to violent deviant subcultures. Deviant Behavior, 47, 1–15. https://doi.org/10.1080/01639625.2016.1197704
O’Malley, R. L., Holt, K., & Holt, T. J. (2020). An Exploration of the Involuntary Celibate (Incel) Subculture Online. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. https://doi.org/10.1177/0886260520959625
Well it really does go to show just how impactful social media has been on society. Like you say; incels would likely have been marginalised in the real-world, but social media has allowed them to exist and grow. Anonymity is a definitely a big thing too, as it allows people to do things they wouldn’t do when it could impact their image. It also removes them from the repercussions of their actions online. And this goes, as much for incels, as it does for cyberbullies, predators, cat-fishers, scammers and trolls. It certainly is an unfortunate by-product of social media. Do you think perhaps anonymity should be censored online, or do you think there might be benefits to it? Unfortunately, on the flip side of having too much personal information online, this can be just as harmful. What do you think?
The question of censoring anonymous users is a tough one. On the one hand it would work well to help stop the growth of toxic communities online but on the other hand anonymity can be a really helpful tool for people to explore their identity in healthier ways. I’ve noticed that there have been a lot of conference papers centred around the LGBTQ community and if we completely remove the ability to be anonymous online we would also be harming members of this community who might not be open about their identity to their real-life peers. Anonymity online can also be really helpful for people who are living under oppressive regimes as well as people in abusive relationships. So, while I can see the benefits to having no anonymity online, I think the harm it would cause would be too great.
I tend to think that we might need to take an approach that is more tailored to each toxic community as they emerge instead of doing something so general like not allowing anonymity. Wouldn’t you agree?
I like your thoughts and I initially didn’t think of it that way – but I do agree; anonymity can definitely be useful!
I also like your idea of tailoring approaches to each individual community, though I wonder how this could be implemented? Perhaps having anonymity grades, similar to movie ratings, which determine what communities should be allowed various degrees of anonymity – for example; designating specific communities, explicitly, as ‘high need’ (such as in the case of LGBTQ communities, or domestic violence victims), which allow for more anonymity, compared to general sites? It would be difficult to actually create, but it is food for thought, anyway.
Thanks for the thoughts!
This was an interesting read – I never knew just how dark the online incel community is!
To contribute to your argument that users can have genuine loneliness and/or anxieties about love that lead them to the incel community, I’d add the explanation that vulnerable people (in this case; lonely young men) actively turn to social media platforms because of their desire to feel valued, and to garner self-affirmation (Grieve et al., 2019). This is usually because they have underpinning feelings of inadequacy and incompetence (in this case; revolving around love and sex) which lead them to seek reassurance in social media communities (Grieve et al., 2019). Just a little extension onto what you’ve already said.
Similarly, and I have talked about this briefly in my own paper, as well as in reply to another paper, but I find this concept of “echo-chambers” really interesting with regards to social media. I agree with your argument that factors such as a online anonymity, a means of mass-communication, as well as the seeking of explanation and reassurance by likeminded individuals fuels radicalisation. It makes me wonder whether these unconventional communities would have existed offline, had social media not existed. Being that these unconventional types would be a minority in real-world society, it is intriguing the consider if they would have had the capacity to unite and amplify their opinions outside of social media. Or, indeed, if their views would have been so extreme. Any thoughts?
Grieve, R., March, E., & Jarrah, W. (2019). Inauthentic self-presentation on Facebook as a function of vulnerable narcissism and lower self-esteem. Computers in Human Behaviour, 102(1), 144-150. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2019.08.020