The concerns related to online harm and hate speech on gender are constantly discussed and debated as the development of the Internet and the occurrence of misogynic violent assaults around the world.
As Terry Flew points out in his book “Regulating Platforms”, core reasons featured for hate speech on the Internet include political and religious division, differentiation of ethnicity, sexuality and gender. The targeted group is always seen as an undesire and even guilty presence (2022). One issue that is gradually becoming a widespread problem is the gender-related violence triggered by the “Incel culture”.
Incel has been tied to extremism, violence and misogyny. Toxic masculinity is spreading through the whole Internet. A 2022 report published by the Center of Countering Digital Hate(CCDH) exposes that the publishes and exposure of content of gender violence against women and approvals of this kind of content in a specific incel forum have increased by 59%. As the researchers point out, the forum is one of the largest discussion platforms and its incel community is “promoting a hateful and violent ideology linked to the murder or injury of 100 people in the last 10 years, mostly women”. The algorithmic recommendation system is exacerbate the incel ideology across the Internet by pushing and displaying hateful comments against women and misogynistic speech to anyone who shows interest in related content. It is ironic that the significant use of in society and media depends on the public tendency of spending more and more time online and social intercourse. This, as Terry mentions in his book, is constantly affecting people’s way of thinking and even decision-making (2022).
What is Incel? Incel is a portmanteau word for “involuntary celibate”. It normally describes males who blame women and society for their failure to have a relationship with females. Males from this group supposedly believe that they have inferior social status and it reflects in females’ rejection of having an intimate relationship with them.
The Incel community arose from a community named “manosphere”, which is an online discussion group full of extreme misogynic values, violent comments against female and negative emotional transmission. The main ideology of the Incel community is to objectify females while believing that society is appearance-focus and anyone who is not pretty enough is in the bottom class. The hate speech against women has increasingly threatened the stability of society, especially females’ personal safety.
The forming and expansion of this group are strongly connected to platformisation and datafication, which means a kind of transformation of social actions such as social intercourse into data. It enables users to form various communities that can resonate with their life, values and interests. Globalisation and platformisation are interrelated while encouraging the age of the web for the public to access massive amounts of different kinds of information. The context of globalisation and dataism promotes the growth of not only platformised services but also Incel culture, a culture that has a core value of misogyny. In other words, online communities are making the contact, information dissemination and emotional effect easier for abusers to hurt people.
The emergence of this community reflects issues that young men are facing, mainly teenagers. Research from the 2020 HOPE Not Hate report shows the profound effects of online Incel ideology and manosphere on the younger generation. 50% of the targeted male from this research believe that “feminism has gone too far and it is the main obstacle of males succeed in heterosexual relationships. In other words, more and more young males have been affected by incel ideology and start to blame females for decreases in sexual intercourse. In the past few years, it is gradually becoming a global concern that had caused many cases of violent assaults in multiple countries.
Andrew Tate, an influencer with a wide range of popularity among young males, is seen as a phenomenological symbol of misogynic culture. Tate was arrested in Romania on the last day of 2022 on charges of rape and women trafficking. In 2016, he became famous after he was expelled from a British television show because a video of him beating a woman with a belt was exposed. That’s when he began to constantly publish posts to marginalise, attack females and exacerbate gender stereotypes.
Tate is an opinion leader in the group of misogyny. He actively published posts and videos on different platforms including Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Tiktok before he was banned from one after another platform. Views of his videos on Tiktok have once reached over 11.6 billion. The main ideology behind the content is misogyny.
“Why would you be with a woman whos not a virgin anyway? She is used goods. Second hand,” he said.
“One of the best things about being a man is being territorial and being able to say ‘that is mine.”
During the #Metoo campaign, Tate also said women should be responsible for putting themselves in a position that is easier to be assaulted. He has become a successful model of masculine grief while providing guarantees of power to young men by organising resistance and posting videos of “how to violently assault women on the street”. In the school, researchers of the Hope report say, “There is an aggressive backlash from male students, who not only deny the issues, but try to silence any notion of female empowerment or critique of male culture.” A news review from the Guardian reveals that over 70% of British female teacher are facing the issue of the spreading of misogynic value. Social media shouldn’t be a medium of toxic masculinity and prevent any productive conversation about gender inequality and the fight against stereotypes.
Andrew Tate is a representative example of how misogyny influencers can significantly affect teenagers and young men with the cover of “male empowerment and Inspiration”. The spreading of sexism, female objectification and gender stereotype exacerbates gender inequality and hate speech toward women. As the report from CCDH points out, every 29 minutes, a post about rapes would be published in the researched forum. The consequences of the widespread of incel values are violent, tragic and unbearable. In 2018, a 26-year-old man ploughed his van on a crowded sideroad of Toronto in Canada. The attack caused 10 people’s death and 16 heavily injured. The attacker admitted that he was radicalised by incels’ speech online. He was driven and inspired by men who “are unable to get laid” to accomplish their mission of bravely acting on their anger to express their dissatisfaction. This is not the only case as the result of the growth of the incel online community. Attacks happened in several countries in the last few years with the reason of misogyny. It is desperately in need of strictly regulating incel culture and misogynic ideology before it causes more lives.
What are the current regulations on limiting the displaying of incel content as a part of hate speech?
The current restrictions on hate speech and violent content are vague and platform-focused. Limited actions are taken in the mainly affected countries of misogynists. Platforms are in the middle position between the citizen and law enforcement (Gillespie, 2017). The governments see opportunities for platforms to filter and regulate the content since they are collecting users’ information to improve user experiences and generate profits. However, the definition of misogynistic content and clarification of tactics of hate speech moderation are the main challenges in regulating sexism on social media platforms for both policymakers and the public.
The United Nations(UN) published a report of Strategy and Plan of Action on hate speech in 2019. It is the first plan from the UN to tackle specifically hate speech. This report presents several commitments to moderate the issue including monitor and addressing the causes of hate speech and using technology and education to conduct more research while enhancing media and communication literacy. This report is merely a guideline and road map to emphasise the actions that the UN and the rest of the world need to undertake. It is a long-term strategy that has limited effect on the current issue of misogynistic speech. In addition, The UK government released new changes on online safety in Nov 2022. The changes require platforms to effectively reduce the exposure of sexism and racism content. Otherwise, the platform might face a charge of substantial fines. The regulation is not strong enough to urge platforms to strictly regulate hate speech. It is always eligible for them to constantly generate profits. Therefore, the regulation should be more strict and aim for punishing platforms in the core aspect of their management.
Debates of whether recognises incel extremists as criminals or even terrorists are long-lasting since the rise of incel culture. Some of them believe that misogynist incels are just having a mental issue. It presents symptoms of loneliness, anxiety and a desire to be satisfied. What they really need is sympathy, patience and support to support males to reconnect with society but not to criminalise them. Some argue that misogynistic violence is caused by perpetrators who are aiming at vulnerable civilians to attempt to change society in this way, and that is the definition of “terrorism”. The violent attack related to incel culture is not only threatening female’s safety but also the entire society. Extreme misogynists who spread hate speech only should be seen as potential terrorists even though the tactics of moderation can not only focus on deplatforming the incel parties but also clarify the defined content genre of sexist hate speech.
People like Tate won’t classify themselves as incels and even draw a clear boundary with this term, but the expressions of their opinions are based on the ideology of misogyny. The meaning delivery of language is vary depends on the context and related cultural background. This further increases the difficulty of establishing explicit provisions on moderating the issue of hate speech.
One of the critical issues is that even though major social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram and Tiktok banned Andrew Tate’s account a few years ago, he still can reactive a new account to continually expand his popularity. It is fair to say that the platforms have the power and ability to prohibit influencers like Tate to post any content eternally. It is interesting to see how Tate’s account was only banned when the effects of his comments were uncontrollable. Platforms have the liability and responsibility to regulate content, but they also need more users to spend more time participating and interacting with the content posted. Tate, who has huge fame on the internet, is a relatively effective way to generate a higher level of user engagement with intense discussion or advocacy.
The platform can decide what users can do, how to interact with the content, what content can be exposed and pushed and how to attract attention. The capability of platforms is an opportunity and obstacle for government to regulate since platforms need to do what they do to maintain the operations of the company.
In this case, it is necessary to criminalise misogynists who are frequently posting high-risk violence-related content. It would be hard to define and predict the act of violence after a person has been affected by incel violence. So it is important to eliminate the threat from the initial source. In addition, it is also important to increase public awareness of how incel culture is harmful and toxic especially when it comes to teenage education. As Foucault’s panopticism theory indicates, the success of disciplinary power for the docile body requires the use of hierarchical observation, normalizing judgment and punishment (1995). The tactics can be established based on the human nature of herd mentality.
To achieve that, the platforms need to have a set of regulations for spreading the unspoken rules of the “possibility of being disciplined for posting misogynist content”. This is a relatively extreme approach because, to some extent, it can partially violate the rights of speech and expression. It is also important to utilise the power of authorities to strictly urge and supervise platforms of setting surveillance and punishment system on hate speech and prevent any extreme attacks from the very beginning. One of the possible ways is for government to intervene in the anti-misogyny campaign to clarify the nature and cause of this incel value. Knowledge is essential for solutions and an ideological battle. The algorithmic recommendation system should be modified to decrease and even avoid the promotion and recommendation of misogynic violent content even if a certain individual shows interest in incel content.
Making the young men understand that inspiration and improvement in life can also be achieved in ways other than hating and hurting others.
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