by Naama Kates
Wednesday, 5
January 2022
Factcheck
10:21

Another set of panicked headlines about incels

The media is determined to identify a new danger to society
by Naama Kates
All three pieces use Jake Davison, the Plymouth shooter, as the embodiment of the incel community

Earlier this week, The Times rang in the New Year with a story titled “Massive rise in use of incel sites that call for women to be raped.” The Guardian and then The Independent quickly followed suit

Each piece remained true to the formula: it begins with the news peg, in this case, an apparent “spike” in UK traffic to “hate-filled incel forums,” which has risen from 114,420 to 638,505 between March and November of last year according to the Centre for Countering Digital Hate. This is invariably followed by a brief portrait of the incel community composed of posts hand-selected to demonstrate the way users “lionise” a mass shooter. Next comes commentary from experts who — with varying degrees of expertise — provide soundbites to underscore the imminent danger posed by the incels, and a call-to-action for tech companies, law enforcement agencies, and government to do something, and for women to be very afraid. 

The significance of the increase in monthly traffic is dubious. Such data can be calibrated and explained in nearly infinite ways; website traffic ebbs and flows like the weather, which is literally a factor in and of itself. The Times piece includes a specific jump in traffic following the Plymouth attack in August, which could quite plausibly be attributed to outrage viewers and terrorism researchers. 

All three pieces use Jake Davison, the Plymouth shooter, to typify the incel community. The Guardian piece even places him in the headline, and explains that incels propagandise the attack for “recruitment” efforts — which is something I’ve never seen take place. In my piece about Davison, I expressed doubt that his involvement with the community was any motivation for the tragic attack. Since then, Tim Jacques, deputy senior national coordinator for UK counterterrorism policing has stated definitively that it was not. That statement received very little media coverage after the barrage of pieces claiming him as an “incel killer,” and only The Times included it in Monday’s piece. 

Given all that press, some speculation about Davison should be expected on incel forums, as should some bad taste jokes. Ironic humour is part of incel culture, and the handful of posts highlighted repeatedly in these pieces fail to accurately represent much of the content on these sites. The majority of posts about Davison were mere gossip and conjecture, not unlike my Twitter timeline in following days. 

The timing of these stories appears to coincide with an ongoing political push to include misogyny on the violent extremism agenda and to further restrict speech online. For example, Imran Ahmed, chief executive of the Center for Countering Digital Hate (a UK non-profit), told The Times

Make no mistake, incel communities are bound together by an ideology which preaches hatred of women, and has inspired deadly real-world attacks.
- Imran Ahmed, CCDH

But there is no evidence that participation in these forums or exposure to “incel ideology” leads to real-world violence. In fact, a new study forthcoming in the January issue of the Journal of Intelligence, Conflict, and Warfare (JICW), which surveyed 274 self-identified active incels, suggests that it does not. 

“We found that ideology is only weakly correlated with radical attitudes,” says lead author Dr. Sophia Moskalenko. “This is consistent with research into other groups vulnerable to radicalisation, where fewer than 1 percent of those who harbour radical ideology ever act on it.”

Indeed, many incels are so isolated that they value forums like those in question as a rare source of community and friendship, and an outlet for frustrations they cannot express elsewhere. Criminalising participation, or preventing access through censorship will do little to address their underlying mental health issues or the broader societal factors that contribute to their distress. 

If the media is so concerned about “recruitment” or the radicalising effect of these websites — any of them — maybe they should stop writing so many formulaic, apocryphal screeds about them in the first place. Where do they think all that traffic is coming from?

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AC Harper
AC Harper
10 months ago

In a highly polarised social or political world people must find the ‘other’ to signal their virtue against. Otherwise all that signalling is empty effort.
Just as luvies come together to award themselves OSCARs etc. virtue groups come together to find new targets for their virtue – if you look hard enough for something you will find it, whether it exists or not.

Justin Clark
Justin Clark
10 months ago
Reply to  AC Harper

an important point – peoples’ careers (& lifestyles) depend on this ‘other’

AC Harper
AC Harper
10 months ago
Reply to  Justin Clark

You are quite correct… but my suspicion is that virtue signallers are concerned primarily about their own status – so problems caused to other people are either beyond their intellectual grasp or interpreted as a just desert for the ‘others’ bad behaviour.
Echoes of Puritanism perhaps?

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
10 months ago

Make no mistake, incel communities are bound together by an ideology which preaches hatred of women, and has inspired deadly real-world attacks. 

Islam?

Victoria Cooper
Victoria Cooper
10 months ago

The real problem is classifying people. Firstly, that de-humanises them and secondly it is an invitation to form a group. Once a group values are attributed to the group rather than individual people with their varying and various personalities traits. Shall we just stop with the labelling?

Wilfred Davis
Wilfred Davis
10 months ago

There’s no doubt that some ‘labels’ can be malignant.

But if we abandon all categories, groups, classifications, and so on, how can we ever discuss anything? How can we do abstract thought? How can we even get through the simplest daily activities, including interactions with others?

We need to be able to describe things to each other, and to make predictions about the things and people from our own and others’ experience. Experience includes ‘group’ generalisations (that dog might bite you, that dodgy-looking man might attack you, even though 99.9% of dogs and men won’t).

tom j
tom j
10 months ago

Really good piece. Jake Davison was clearly an unstable guy, and he killed 6 people, but none of them were young women.

Adam Bartlett
Adam Bartlett
10 months ago

Great to see Naama posting so often – she’s the reason I became a paying subscriber here. There are indeed many journalists trying to get incel forums banned – this has been the case since Eliot Rodgers, though it got much worse since 2018.

It would be highly unexspected if policy makers listen to them. On this sort of question, they tend to pay much more attention to the CVE community. (Counter Violent Extremeists – largely Colonels, Generals, accademics with a good sense of praxis etc.) With a few exceptions, CVE folks have the same opinion as Naama, actually several of them are her friends, e.g. good  Phil Gurski. Even the Guardian article linked to above has several moderate paragraphs about incels, including from CVE adjacent think tanker Tim Squirrel who warns against securitising them.

Still, one never knows what’s going to happen in this increasingly mad world. Possibly SJWs have a chance of getting their way, which would likely lead to more not less violent incidents. So good to see articles like this.

Lloyd Byler
Lloyd Byler
10 months ago

“ .. If the media is so concerned about “recruitment” or the radicalising effect of these websites”

Operative word there, is: ‘If’ (the media cared);

If, the media cared for the truth, they would never write another piece of ‘Yellow Journalism’;

… if, the media cared, that is;

However, because the Yellow Journalism brigade media ‘mafia’ has been promoting wars, fueling hatred, disparaging success, “pretending” to care about the downtrodden, writing busy body pieces about anything that can be regurgitated to captivate the gossip consumption proclivities of the bored masses, this degenerate freak show of the “civilized” world continues.

.. and just by the way, who comes up with these terms ‘in-cel’ and ‘chad’ and ‘Stacey’ ?
Answer: the same bored biased gossip community and literary channels operated, perused, moderated and read by degenerates with no creative hobby interests to keep their life otherwise engaged…

.. in other words: bored inept modern barbarians

‘Love the neighbor as thyself” would be a good start to transform the world community to become an actual real time civilized world.

The inherent definition, of: ‘love’ is to actually care for someone’s highest good; And ‘caring’ for someone, is definitely not something that the generic media mafia cartel does.

Love suffers long and is kind.
Love does not envy.
Love does not flaunts itself and is not puffed up,
Love does not behave itself improperly.
Love seeks not its own.
Love is not easily provoked.
Love thinks no evil;
Love rejoices not in iniquity, but love rejoices in the truth;
Love bears all things, believes all things (in people’s best). Love hopes all things, and endures all things.

Love never fails.

.. If, the dear readers would abandon all consumption of all yellow provocative journalism produced by the unloving and unkind media mafia cartel, then this gossip proclivity would collapse immediately.

Sean Penley
Sean Penley
10 months ago

Good article. I don’t think some of the critics of the ‘incel movement’ paused for the three seconds or so it would have required to spot the flow in their logic. How do you recruit for a ‘movement’ (yes, I’m using scare quotes because I don’t believe the thing actually exists) whose name literally involves the word “involuntary?” From everything I gather, this isn’t something people want to be a part of. It’s the poor jerks that can’t get a girl, so they find an online support community.
I suppose those truly seeking a solution to this problem should suggest women seek out the guys who can’t get a date and give them a charity lay now and then. No, put down your pitch forks, I don’t mean that literally. I just mean that if we were to accept the media’s thesis that guys who can’t get laid are a threat to society, then the obvious solution is for girls to lower their standards. Well, that or a mass extermination campaign like the socialists love so much. Come to think of it, the media tend to like socialists, so that is probably the solution they have in mind.
Therefore I propose neither solution. How about we just leave the poor guys alone, they have it bad enough already. If they start making threats of violence, treat it as seriously as if a follower of a particularly peaceful religion makes the same threats. And if you think the latter aren’t treated seriously enough, then I would propose they must be treated at least as seriously as incels. Probably moreso since, you know, they kind of do more crazy stuff.

Martin Goodwin
Martin Goodwin
10 months ago

What a very weird world we live in now. I had to look up the word ‘incel’ (and ‘propagandise’ for that matter) to make any sense at all of this article.,and I’m still none the wiser…….

Last edited 10 months ago by Martin Goodwin
Lindsay Snoman
Lindsay Snoman
10 months ago
Reply to  Martin Goodwin

At its simplest, it’s a classic case of bullying. Only this is among adults and not in the playground.

David McDowell
David McDowell
10 months ago

What exactly is the “Centre for Countering Digital Hate”? Who funds it, who manages it, what are its objectives? Is it just another RNLI, Hate not Hope, National Trust, infiltrationist scam?
Reading between the lines it looks like Soros’ UK operation and that Centre is actually spelled Center.

Last edited 10 months ago by David McDowell