The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The online incel movement is getting more violent and extreme, report says

The Center for Countering Digital Hate analyzed more than 1 million posts showing a rise in advocacy of rape, mass killings

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown, right, walks past a board showing the photos of gunman Elliot Rodger and the weapons he used in the mass shooting that took place in Santa Barbara, Calif. Rodger, who posted a manifesto denouncing women before killing six people and himself, is a hero to many people who consider themselves incels. (Jae C. Hong/AP)

The most prominent forum for men who consider themselves involuntarily celibate or “incels” has become significantly more radicalized over the past year and a half and is seeking to normalize child rape, a new report says.

The report, by the Center for Countering Digital Hate’s new Quant Lab, is the culmination of an investigation that analyzed more than 1 million posts on the site. It found a marked spike in conversations about mass murder and growing approval of sexually assaulting prepubescent girls.

The report also says that platforms including YouTube and Google, as well as internet infrastructure companies like Cloudflare are facilitating the growth of the forum, which the report said is visited by 2.6 million people every month. “These businesses should make a principled decision to withdraw their services from sites causing such significant harm,” the report says.

“This is a novel, new violent extremist movement born in the internet age, which defies the usual characteristics of violent extremist movements that law enforcement and the intelligence community are usually used to,” said Imran Ahmed, founder and CEO of CCDH, a US-based nonprofit. “Our study shows that it is organized, has a cogent ideology and has clearly concluded that raping women, killing women, and raping children is a clear part of the practice of their ideology.”

Incels blame women for their failings in life. The term originated decades ago, and while the first incel forum was founded by a woman in the mid 1990s, incel communities have since become almost exclusively male. Incel ideology has been linked to dozens of murders and assaults over the past decade, the most prominent one involving Elliot Rodger, a 22-year-old self-described incel who murdered six people in a stabbing and shooting rampage in Santa Barbara, Calif., in 2014. Before killing himself, he posted a long manifesto and YouTube videos promoting incel ideology.

In March, the U.S. Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center released a report warning that anti-woman violence was a growing terrorism threat.

According to the CCDH analysis, members of the forum post about rape every 29 minutes, and more than 89 percent of posters support rape and say it’s acceptable. The CCDH analysis also found that posters on the forum are seeking to normalize child rape. More than a quarter of members of the forum have posted pedophilia keywords, the analysis found, and more than half of the members of the forum support pedophilia.

The forum also changed its rules this year to accommodate what appears to be a trend toward normalizing rape of younger victims, according to the report. The forum previously implored users not to “sexualize minors in any way, shape or form,” but in March changed that language to “do not sexualize prepubescent minors in any way, shape, or form.”

The report also cited content that reflected the trend toward pedophilia, noting that a majority of commenters voiced support for a post that read, “As an incel, there is literally no reason to be against pedophilia.” Another thread started by a regular user who had posted more than 7,000 times to the forum contained an image of a 12-year-old child with the comment “who in their right mind would prefer a 22 year old [woman] to this?”

“Analysis of their discourse shows this core group poses a clear and present danger to women, other young men, and reveals an emerging threat to our children,” the report says.

CCDH said its analysis also had found a rising interest in mass murder on the site. Posts mentioning incel mass murders increased 59 percent between 2021 and 2022, the study said, and praise was common for Elliot Rodger. The word “kill” was mentioned 1,181 times on the forum in just one month, equivalent to once every 37 minutes. “Shoot” and “murder” are also popular words on the forum.

“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,” the report said. “Unchecked, incel communities have the potential to radicalize further.”

The CCDH said it is making its full database of the forum available to law enforcement and has briefed counterterrorism officials in the U.S. and the U.K. about the report’s findings.

The forum was founded in 2017 by Diego Joaquín Galante, known online as “Sergeant Incel” and Lamarcus Small as a response to Reddit banning the subreddit /r/incels. It offers an invitation-only Discord server for its members who have posted more than 400 times to the site, and an active channel on the chat app Telegram. Moderators of the forum also maintain a Twitter account that promotes incel ideology and attacks perceived critics.

Galante and Small declined to comment. Cloudflare did not respond to a request for comment.

Only self-declared heterosexual men are permitted to post on the forum; women and members of the LGBTQ community are prohibited from weighing in.

The report says the forum has gained a mass audience largely through social media, singling out YouTube in particular, where, it said, videos promoting incel ideology have been viewed a total of 24.2 million times. “YouTube is a key part of incel education,” Ahmed said.

Forum members, the report said, often share content from misogynist YouTube channels and channels like Incel TV, which promotes incel ideology. Another popular YouTube channel mentioned on the forum, the report said, is SlutHate Creeps, where users post covertly recorded images of women.

“We remove content that targets or threatens individuals or groups based on protected attributes. Upon review, we removed and age-restricted several videos surfaced by CCDH for violating our Community Guidelines,” said YouTube spokesman Jack Malon in a statement.

YouTube isn’t the only inroad, the analysis found. Galante and Small have created a network of seemingly more mainstream websites that funnel people to the incel forum. Google searches for body image or unemployment frequently return links to these “incelosphere” sites, the CCDH found.

Teenage boys are among the forum’s most active and extreme users, according to the CCDH. In one instance, a boy who said he was 17 was recorded as being on the forum for an average of 10 hours per day during the period of the report, posting an average of 40 times per day, the report said. Another, who claimed to be 15, spent an average of five hours per day on the site, posting repeatedly about his desire to commit a mass shooting.

The forum enables their participation, the analysis said, by encouraging users to hide the site from prying parents or teachers by using a feature that disguises it as a banana marketing website.

The report criticizes Cloudflare, an internet services company that provides services to the forum and to other Galante and Small sites. Cloudflare recently dropped Kiwi Farms, a forum where users coordinated harassment campaigns against women and members of the LGBTQ community, after a protest launched targeting its mainstream clients. “Cloudflare is profiting from its role as an infrastructure provider to all four incelosphere forums and has been praised by the incel forum’s official Twitter account,” the report says.

The CCDH urged government regulators also to find ways to combat incel ideology and restrict the site. “This should not be left to the goodwill of Big Tech, who profit from the creation and spread of this content and are not properly incentivized or required to be proactively transparent on the key metrics or to invest in the desired safety outcomes,” the report says.

“This forum is a violent ideological manifesto, but for the 21st century,” Ahmed said. “Instead of being a book, it’s essentially a wiki that is continuously being evolved by the readers themselves. Left alone, this community has been radicalized further and their ideology is becoming more dangerous by the day.”

correction

A previous version of this article incorrectly said the Center for Countering Digital Hate is British. It's based in the United States. The article has been corrected.

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