INCEL: From Supportive Community to Next Extremism

A series of similar attacks aimed at women alone in New York City has been reported in the past month.

Halley Kate Mcgookin, a social media influencer with more than one million followers, posted a video on TikTok to share an infuriating incident that she was hit by a man in the face without warning when she was sending an e-mail on the sidewalk. This video went viral and more young women shared similar experiences in the same period and in the narrowed locations. These incidents attracted public attention. After their similarities were gathered, some netizens deduced that one man or one organized group of men deliberately punched women in the face and the head when they happened to look down on their phone alone on the pavement (Roy & Vadukul, 2024).

These coincidences reminded people of the crazy attacks of some Incel members.

Mikayla Toninato said she was attacked in New York City earlier this week

The Establishment of Incel

In 1997, Alana, a university student living in Toronto, was in her mid-20s and just started dating. She was at a loss for romantic relationships and started a website, Alana’s Involuntary Celibacy Project, for those who were struggling to form loving relationships. Similar to other contemporaneous sites, it aimed to provide a channel for releasing the depression over sexuality and dating. Lonely men and women could share their solitude and worries in this forum. More than that, it tried to form a connection between these members to provide support and solutions. Alana said, “There were a lot of people who were lonely and not really sure how to start dating. They were kind of lacking those social skills and I had a lot of sympathy for that because I had been through the same situation”(Kassam, 2018). She created the word “Invcel” to describe her forum members. Then “Invcel” became “Incel” to describe lonely people of any gender without sex or a relationship for a long time, despite trying.

After Alana left this online community in 2000, the forum for Incels became a savagery where increasingly like-minded people joined in to support each other while its influence grew wildly out of control(Taylor, 2018).

Watershed for Incel and Further Influential Harms

In the following years, with the boom of online websites and forums, the Incel forum branched out into two types. One still concentrated on the support and rehabilitation for the frustrated involuntary celibates on their own site “IncelSupport”. The other became increasingly militant and hostile to women by expressing and sharing memes about violence and extremism, and was gravitated to other sites, including “LoveShy”, “4chan” and “Reddit” where they could express strident and aggressive topics with less restrain, such as massive killing and murder.

In 2014, 22-year-old Elliot Rodger killed six people and injured fourteen people in California and then shot himself. A video titled Elliot Rodger’s Retribution was released on YouTube and a lengthy manifesto titled My Twisted World: The Story of Elliot Rodger was posted to express his loneliness as an Incel, his hatred to women and his crime plan aiming to punish women for his involuntary celibacy(Branson-Potts & Winton, 2018) .

His crime was treated as a watershed in Incel movements: He was put on the pedestal by many Incels and sparked many followers to do the copycat crime.

Elliot Rodger

Four years later in the hometown of the Incel creator, Alek Minassian, after declaring his manifesto on Facebook “ The Incel Rebellion has already begun”, drove a rented van into a busy street of Toronto central business district and ploughed into a crowd of pedestrians. This tragic attack ended with 10 people killed and 16 people wounded. In the interview with Minassian released by the Toronto police, Minassian regarded Elliot Rodger as his inspiration and he thought he should take actions rather than “fester in his own sadness” after his online interaction with Rodger before the massacre and knowing this tragic event in 2014(Kassam & Cecco, 2018).

On August 12 2021, Jake Davison, a 22-year-old gunman, committed suicide after shooting two women, two men and a three-year-old girl in six minutes in the Keyham area of Plymouth. This incident was regarded as the worst mass shooting in Britain since 2010.

Jake Davison

In his posts and videos shared in “Incel” forum on Reddit, he expressed his hatred for his mother, the first victim of his shooting, and his rage against the failure to find a girlfriend(Weaver & Morris, 2021).

A Vicious Circle to Produce Black Pills

Primarily, there should explain the definition of “Black Pills”. It is an analogous philosophy inspired from the film, The Matrix. The protagonist Neo is given a choice to take red or blue pills. The blue pills represent a delusional and pleasant dream while the red ones reveal the cruel truth of reality. In Incel forums, taking the red pills means to insight the truth that women are vain and they will never date with Incels. Developed from the Red Pill Movement, the more aggressive Black Pill Movement encourages Incels to accept the truth they are ugly and unlovable so that they should give up their meaningless life. In this way, the Black Pill philosophy fosters a collective sense of powerlessness, nothingness and alienation among Incels.

First, network lays a foundation for Incel groups to form a public sphere in digital space. Broadly, the public sphere was “a realm of our social life in which something approaching public opinion can be formed and into which access is guaranteed to all citizens”, put forward by Jürgen Habermas. However, articulated by feminist scholar Nancy Fraser, it’s difficult, even impossible to separate the public and private concerns, especially for historically marginalized groups. Thus she argued that these groups formed their own space in practice, called “subaltern counter publics”(Nichols et al., n.d.) Fraser emphasized that they constitute “parallel discursive arenas where members of subordinated social groups invent and circulate counter discourses, which in turn permit them to formulate oppositional interpretations of their identities, interests and needs”.

It serves as a bedrock that Incels perceive themselves as oppressed and marginalized minority compared with the mainstream. Online forums and chat rooms, based on their ideologically rich information hubs to attract Incel initiates, function like a public sphere to form an identity as the core and to organize and set public agenda. Almost 1,000 references to dehumanising misogyny or violent action are recorded each day in the “incelosphere”. And according to Lewys Brace, an advisor on extremism for governments, it was recorded in his leading long-term study that, on average, there posted 112 references a day to extreme misogynistic terms along with words “punch, stab, shoot, attack” in 2016 on dedicated incel forums. Numbers have steadily increased since, now rising to a daily total of 849 references(Townsend, 2023). An Incel forum user described the radicalization process: “it starts by browsing PUA [Pick Up Artist] forums, 4chan as a teenager, then stumbling across the ideas of the red pill. Later, you realize that for us genetically inferior men, we are doomed. Swallow the black pill, find out the truth”. The online environment is the key context to normalising radical thinking within the incel milieu. “Users become attuned to the values and norms of the community through discussions and disciplinary techniques that normalise and structure users’ thoughts and actions”(Lindsay, 2022).  

Second, algorithm reinforces the formation of social identities and the faith for the Black Pill philosophy. Noted by academics from the University of Exeter, Incel followers were increasingly overlapped with the far right. Online algorithms should be blamed for pushing young boys towards extreme rightwing ideology(Townsend, 2023).

The spread of Incel is gradual based on the technology development. The video platforms, such as YouTube, helps amplify Incel influence more easily compared with the texts and pictures posted on forums.  Typed into the YouTube search bar, “self esteem for guys”, it can trigger a recommendation about violence fighting, hunting and far-right political figure interviews(Connolly, 2022). Furthermore, the short video platforms, like TikTok, employ the highly frequent stimulation of the users’ dopamine to attract countless new users, and the advanced algorithm to increase the dependency and time spent to stick users. It benefits the expansion of Incel groups. Researchers set up nine different new accounts on TikTok to mimic users curious about topics like Incel content, and they found that after viewing ten related videos, the “For You” pages of the new accounts were filled with similar, and even more extreme content(Gilbert, 2023).

The algorithm is a groundbreaking upgrading for these platforms. As the Incel forum user mentioned before, the initiates may firstly know this word from other related posts and videos. Their search or click behaviors out of curiosity will trigger the algorithmic curation to create the tailored search and recommendation system. The more users interact with platforms, including clicks on the recommendation or search the related concepts, the narrower scope of content users are exposed to will be formed by the personalized Filter Bubble. As users explore more online, their belief and interest will be reinforced through repeated exposure to similar content because in the Echo Chamber, users tend to select information to prove their existing viewpoints and platforms will cater to their preference(Gao et al., 2023). Filter Bubble and Echo Chamber Effect affect each other and function together to form the confirmation bias because people attend to “accept information unquestioningly when it reinforces some existing belief or attitude”(Defining Confirmation Bias, 2016).

Incels are not born to be, but socially formed after the exposure to these standpoints. They will become active in their groups and output more posts and videos which may attract more initiates to take Black Pills.

Potential Broad Harms to Young Generations

Although most Incels are not misogynist spree shooters and they only treat forums as vents to express their predicament and agony, it’s unclear how many Incels, absorbed in the Black Pill philosophy, believe violence is their only way out(Lindsay, 2022).

What is more vigilant is that the social media has seismically influenced teenagers. According to Pew Research Center, by 2022, 95% of teenagers use some social media, and more than a half of them say it would be hard to give social media(Pew Research Center, 2023). Teenagers are more vulnerable to social media because their brains become more satisfied with attention and admiration from others but their prefrontal cortex is not mature enough to well regulate emotional responses to social rewards.

More than half of teens say it would be difficult for them to give up social media.

Besides these physiological factors, it is an alarm that exposure to Incel philosophy online is risky and even harmful for young generations because of the cautionary lessons. Mary Ann McCabe, clinical psychologist, shared her observation on her teen patients diagnosed of eating disorders. These kids often started with watching something relatively benign, like exercise videos, but their social media algorithms multiple, offering bulks of material related to body image and weight. “It was an echo chamber,” McCabe added. “And several of my patients attributed their eating disorders to this online behavior”(Weir, n.d.). Similarly, another study of high school students showed that kids influenced by their peers drinking alcohol on social media were more likely to start drinking and to binge one year later.

Actions We Should Take

From a broad perspective, the governance of hate speech should be a global responsibility. It is not completely correct that internet is an open space of freedom. For network users, it’s an open space which has broken the barrier of time, locations, religion and culture to communicate with other people freely. However, in Behind the Screen, Sarah Roberts demonstrates “the internet is a network of well-demarcated privately owned platforms in which corporations exercise a great amount of control”(Aragón, 2020). The technology giants employ algorithm, Artificial Intelligence and other technologies to make a profit, so their actions should be under the regulations of higher authorities. In the consideration of instant and worldwide influence of internet, all the governments should gather to deliberate a global solution. This solution, especially the general terms, can effectively fill the gap of transnational regulation of hate speech.

For the governments who aim to effectively reduce the domestic harms of hate speech, the revision and updating of law should coincide with the rapid uptake in a new technology. At former stage, governments should pay attention to the platform regulation of different giants, and the professional staffs are needed to test their data selectively and randomly. If there has formed hate speeches, the control of spread is fundamentally taken by governments and platform companies mutually. Simultaneously, the responsibility of hate speech should divide strictly and clearly into individuals and platforms. It is a warning for both individuals and companies. Individuals should keep in mind that they should be responsible for every words and the platform should take more efforts to shoulder their responsibilities.

Platforms should play a critical role in hate speech regulation. First, they should pay more attention to those groups with potential threat and higher risk of polarization, including regulating the opinions posted in their popular blogs and videos, especially the posts of the leading users. Second, the age rating system of users is necessary to protect the vulnerable groups, especially the young generations immature to differentiate the  viewpoints online and control the influence from social media. Platforms should restrict teenagers’ access to those forums or groups tagged risky or extreme to reduce their spread and influence on young people. Last, they should continually upgrade their algorithmic system and sensitive word filter to take control of the extreme groups to some extent.


The issues emerging in the development of Incel group is rare, but the harms and influence is hugely broad and profound and the reasons are universal and representative. It is because of the new digital environment and complex factors, including cultural, historical, religious factors, that hate speech becomes a critical issue. However, I do think the principle of hate speech regulation is that prevention is prior over treatment. And the governance of hate speech should be a systematic process with different stakeholders and different factors taken into consideration. For Governments and NGOs to platform giants and individuals, every role in this governance is significant the take their responsibilities.  


Roy, J., & Vadukul, A. (2024, March 28). They were punched and took to TikTok. The New York Times.

Kassam, A. (2018, April 26). Woman behind “incel” says angry men hijacked her word “as a weapon of war.” The Guardian.

Taylor, B. J. (2018, August 29). The woman who founded the “incel” movement. BBC.

Branson-Potts, H., & Winton, R. (2018, April 27). How Elliot Rodger went from misfit mass murderer to “saint” for group of misogynists — and suspected Toronto killer – Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times.

Kassam, A., & Cecco, L. (2018, May 1). Toronto van incident in which 10 pedestrians died appeared deliberate, say police. The Guardian.

Weaver, M., & Morris, S. (2021, August 14). Plymouth gunman: a hate-filled misogynist and ‘incel.’ The Guardian.

Nichols, R., Nutter, A., & Moore, E. (n.d.). 6.1: Habermas and the “Public sphere.” Pressbooks.

Townsend, M. (2023, January 7). Experts fear rising global ‘incel’ culture could provoke terrorism. The Guardian.

Lindsay, A. (2022). Swallowing the Black Pill: Involuntary Celibates’ (Incels) Anti Feminism within Digital Society. International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy, 11(1), 210–224.

Connolly, A. (2022, January 24). Incels are targeting ‘next generation of extremists’ online. Could algorithm reform help? Global News.

Gilbert, D. (2023, March 21). TikTok Is Pushing Incel and Suicide Videos to 13-Year-Olds. Vice.

Gao, Y., Liu, F., & Gao, L. (2023). Echo chamber effects on short video platforms. Scientific Reports, 13(1).

Defining confirmation bias. (2016, May 8). Facing History & Ourselves.

Pew Research Center. (2023, December 11). Teens and social media: Key findings from Pew Research Center surveys | Pew Research Center.

Weir, K. (n.d.). Social media brings benefits and risks to teens. Here’s how psychology can help identify a path forward.

Aragón, D. (2020). Behind the screen: content moderation in the shadows of social media. Critical Studies in Media Communication, 37(5), 512–514.

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