At the onset of the pandemic, the Cambridge Cybercrime Centre observed a significant increase in murderous fantasies expressed online within the incel community. The level of online activity, as well as the tone, had grown increasingly threatening. Fortunately, that level of violent ideation seemed to settle down over time but now has resurfaced.
This week, the Centre for Countering Digital Hate found that UK web traffic data to three of the largest incel sites has grown from 114,420 monthly visits to 638,505, over the period of March to November 2021. That represents a sixfold rise in activity on websites promoting incel ideology. Also significant is the call to action for the rape of women.
More than “loners,” incels are stark examples of “incompetent joiners” – young angry men fueled by a sense of aggrieved entitlement that they are being cheated out of the romantic and sexual experiences they rightfully deserve.
Incels, short for involuntary celibates, are probably the most infamous segment of the manosphere – the online morass of misogyny that includes incels, Pick Up Artists (PUAs), MGTOWs (Men Going Their Own Way), and Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs). They also appear to be the most prone to public displays of brutality: Law enforcement attributes 50 murders in North America in the past several years to violent incels. While existing entirely in a virtual global community, incels are bound together by an ideology that preaches hatred of women and has inspired deadly real-world attacks.
In the UK incel community, the August 2021 attacker in Plymouth has been lionized. That 22-year-old man’s social media usage suggested an obsession with incel culture. He also called for “all women to be raped at least once.” On December 27, a Denver man harboring extremist views killed five people in a shooting spree. That 47-year-old man, while not a self-professed incel, had complained about “modern/liberal suppression” of “male honor violence” and raged against “female premarital sex” in various Twitter posts – all views consistent with incel ideology.
While many of us are thinking about the anniversary of the January 6 insurrection, and news broadcasts are replete with images of the screaming shaman and kitted-up militia members, let’s not take our eyes off of other persistent threats on the horizon.
Misogyny is a dangerous and underestimated component of extremism, and there is a robust symbiosis between incel culture and other violent ideologies. Changes in the landscape involving the dramatic escalation in pandemic cases, the tense political environment, and challenging economy all can further destabilize the already volatile incel community. Don’t underestimate incels as potential threat actors.