What is the Incel Movement?
Aggressive and hateful rhetoric has become more and more prominent in the public sphere, especially online. This rhetoric has united different aggrieved groups around common foci of hatred and its online nature makes it difficult to monitor and control. One example of this is the growing incel movement, where its members, primarily young men, connect on online forums over their shared anger towards women and their inability to satisfy their sexual desires. Incels, which stands for involuntarily celibate, see women as sexual gatekeepers and claim that, as a result, women are to blame for their lack of sexual success. The online nature of the movement has allowed it to generate an international presence, with the majority of its several thousand members coming from the US, Canada and Europe.
Unfortunately, this movement is not confined to the online sphere and violent attacks have been connected to its influence. A deadly 2014 attack on a sorority was celebrated by members of the community and recently the perpetrator of a van attack in Toronto claimed to be part of the “incel rebellion” and a gunman associated with the movement attacked a yoga studio in Tallahassee. New Tactics in Human Rights' tactic database contains several tactical approaches for confronting the harm perpetrated by the incel movement. These tactics target both the online aspect of the incel movement, which can make it more difficult to monitor and contain, and the larger social implications that have given rise to the incel movement.
Targeting Technological Aspects of the Incel Movement
The online nature of the incel movement makes it difficult to combat the damaging rhetoric and hate speech that is influencing young men. Many incels report that they were attracted to the movement because they felt vulnerable and alone and that they were later radicalized by the messages they saw online. The Redirect Method, created to counter ISIS online recruitment, has developed a tactic to interrupt the process of online radicalization. Redirect strategically places advertisements next to search phrases that potential ISIS recruits might use. These advertisements contain content that subtly counters ISIS’s message. If a potential recruit clicks on these messages they are taken to different YouTube playlists that provide counter narratives to the typical narratives that ISIS uses to recruit new members.
The Redirect Method’s innovative use of different online forums to circumvent radical narratives from resonating with vulnerable people is a transferable tactic that would make a useful addition to efforts working to combat radicalism in the incel community. Rather than targeting search phrases relevant to ISIS, the Redirect Method could be programmed to target search phrases commonly used by individuals attracted to the incel movement. Similarly, the YouTube playlists and advertisements could be curated to redirect and counter misogynistic and sexist narratives.
The online sphere also produces challenges in monitoring and controlling its content, as it is difficult to police online content and the majority of the control is with individual Internet Service Providers (ISPs). In response to these challenges, the International Network against Discrimination on the Internet (INDI) has partnered with the Network against Discrimination and for the Research of Human Rights (NDHR) to battle online discrimination, in their case against the Buraku in Japan. INDI begins by monitoring different websites for discriminatory messages. Once they find a message they contact the person who posted the message and explain why it is harmful and ask them to take it down. If the individual refuses to take down the discriminatory message INDI will contact the ISP about the content of the message and the ISP will usually remove it.
A similar endeavor can be applied to ISPs that commonly host incel forums. Of course, this will not completely resolve the issue as other forums can and will be created. However, removing discriminatory messages and forums can make them less accessible to the large majority and therefore less likely to gain new members. In this way, tactics employed by INDI and NDHR can also help to mitigate the harm done to women by monitoring and limiting the spread of incel content and ideology.
Targeting the Incel Movement on a Societal Level
The rise of the incel movement is clearly based on larger societal norms involving toxic ideas of masculinity and femininity and messages on male entitlement and female subordination. In Kenya these toxic ideas contributed to high rates of sexual assault. To combat these norms, Ujamaa Africa developed Your Moment of Truth, an educational curriculum target at young boys that strives to counteract negative messages of masculinity and femininity. Through the Your Moment of Truth curriculum young boys are taught to challenge conventionally held beliefs about women and how to make decisions that respect rather than demean women. The curriculum reported substantial success, with the percentage of boys ascribing to sexist beliefs dropping significantly.
A similar program aimed at challenging sexist cultural norms could abolish narratives of misogyny and privilege before they culminate in the perpetuation of the incel community. Like the structure of the Your Moment of Truth curriculum in Kenya, curriculums could be introduced that reject the measure of masculinity on sexual prowess and challenge ideas of male privilege and female subordination. Such a curriculum would undermine the ideology that makes the incel community so attractive to so many young men.
The earlier these harmful social norms are confronted the better and challenging these norms can take place beyond the institutional space. The Arab Penal Reform Organization (APRO) has found a way to promote positive ideology to a young audience through their Activist Ali book series. Activist Ali is a 36 part illustrated children’s book series that educates children and their parents on human rights issues, organizations and laws through the adventures of a 10-year old Ali and his team of other young activists. In addition to educating its readers on human rights issues, the Activist Ali series is able to challenge stereotypes and foster feelings of unity in its readers through the positive representation of marginalized groups in the series.
Similar projects to APRO’s Activist Ali series could be implemented to teach children about gender equality at a young age. Books that illustrate positive female characters can enforce ideas of equality that challenge sexist messages of gender division and subordination that contribute to the growth of movements like the one within the incel community. Children’s books also reach beyond the school, so positive ideas and representations of gender relations can be enforced in many different environments. Finally, APRO’s concept can be expanded to include children’s movies and TV shows to reach an even wider audience.
The popularity of the internet and the proliferation of its use as a method of unification have made it more challenging to monitor and challenge hateful ideology. As illustrated above, some new tactics are emerging to confront online abuse and some old tactics can be applied to help address new issues. Please comment below any challenges you have come across relating to online abuse and what tactics you have used to confront those challenges.