Self-described involuntary celibates lurking in the community’s largest forum are escalating their violent rhetoric according to a new report released by the Center for Countering Digital Hate. The report found terms and keywords associated with acts of mass violence on the forum shot up 59% over the past year while approval of sexual violence against women on the site were nearly universal.
CCDH researchers analyzed more than a million posts over the past 18 months on the internet’s leading incel forum. The report refrains from identifying the forum by name in an effort to avoid drawing more users to the site and instead refers to it throughout the report as, “The Incel Forum.” This community, the report claims, sits at the center of a network of ‘incelosphere’ sites,” set up by two individuals since 2017. The report links that so-called network to dozens of suicides and at least one mass murder.
Nearly nine out of 10 posts, or 89% of relevant discussions analyzed by the CCDH were in support of sexual violence against, women with mentions of rape reportedly occurring once every 29 minutes. In total around 20% of all posts on the site reportedly featured misogynistic, racist, antisemitic, or anti-LGBTQ+ language with 16% featuring misogynistic slurs.
The report disturbingly notes a, “growing proliferation” of content that encourages child sexual exploitation with the forum reportedly even going as far as to change its rules to permit the sexualization of pubescent minors. The CCDH claims 53% of the users it analyzed appeared to show positive support for pedophilia.
“Incels are dangerous to themselves and to others,” CCDH CEO Imran Ahmed said in a statement. “They are a highly-developed example of the kinds of modern digital communities, based on malignant ideologies, pseudoscience, misinformation and hate that proliferate and are enabled by unregulated online businesses to cause our societies serious harm.”
In Ahmed’s view, these various stripes of incel groups resemble “brothers-in-arms in a war against women.”
The forum was founded in 2017 following the demise of the /r/ incel subreddit. Reddit banned that community for allegedly inciting violence against women. Now, five years later, the revived incel community boasts thousands of active members with about 406 ‘power-users’ driving the bulk of discussions.
Those select power users account for 74.6% of all posts on the forum with some users appearing to spend more than 10 hours per day on the site. The single forum reportedly receives around 2.6 million monthly visits. At least three minors between the ages of 15-17 were identified as some of the forum’s most active members. Unsurprisingly, the forum’s not exactly an open space. The site describes itself as a “heterosexual male-only forum,” and prohibits women and people from the LGBTQ+ community.
Gizmodo saw members of one prominent incel forum discussing the CCDH report on Friday. Users derided the organization and its founder with homophobic slurs and parroted a thinly veiled anti-semitic trope, claiming the report was backed by billionaire George Soros.
Ahmed and the report place some of the blame for the discoverability of these groups on major tech platforms. Incel communities, according to Ahmed, have “mastered the amplification machine of unregulated, poorly-moderated social media,” and use clickbait and trolling to draw users into their forums.
The CCDH called on YouTube to remove incel channels identified in its report, and recommended Google de-rank known incel websites from search terms connected with inceldom, body image, suicide, and unemployment. Most urgently though, CCHD researchers said Cloudflare, which provides internet services to the forum, should cease doing business with them.
The group called on Twitter to shut down the leading incel forum’s Twitter account and said platforms broadly should increase efforts to tackle digital harms like body image and mental health, which they argue can serve as a spark driving men and boys towards an eventual misogynistic inferno.
“We are in no doubt after conducting this study that this community of angry, belligerent and unapologetic men are dangerous to each other, with malignant social dynamics whereby they encourage each other to worse and worse extremes,” Ahmed said.
Law enforcement agencies and public safety researchers have begun paying closer attention to incel communities in recent years. In March, the U.S. Secret Service released a case study looking into a 2018 shooting at a yoga studio that left two women dead. The perpetrator, according to the case study, showed signs of “misogynistic extremism,” for decades. The case study advocated for early intervention by communities to try and alter the behavior of so-called “anti-feminists” or “involuntary celibates.”
“Communities must remain aware of misogynistic extremism, while pursuing prevention efforts that are designed to identify and intervene with those who pose a risk of violence,” the Secret Service wrote.
Previous academic reports from the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace, and Security and elsewhere meanwhile have tried to recast apparent one-off incidents of violence by clearly misogynist men as a new type of incel terrorism. Others, however, like the United Kingdom’s terrorism law watchdog have cautioned against applying the term broadly to the entire incel movement.
“Here we can see, in real-time, the social norms of a community evolving, driven to new excesses,” Ahmed said, commenting on the CCDH report’s findings. “Unchecked, incel communities have the potential to radicalize further.”