Tim Squirrell is a PhD candidate in Science and Technology Studies at the University of Edinburgh. His research focusses on construction and negotiation of authority and expertise on the internet, with a focus on fitness and nutrition communities.

A Definitive Guide to Incels Part Five: Why are Incels becoming more extreme?

A Definitive Guide to Incels Part Five: Why are Incels becoming more extreme?

This is the fifth instalment in a series of articles on the involuntary celibate community. Previous articles can be found here:





A definitive guide to incels part four: why can't everyone be blackpilled?

Note: in this piece I’m going to be using a lot of the incel vernacular under the assumption that the reader understands at least the basic gist of its meaning. If you find yourself confused, it might be a good idea to quickly browse through my glossary of incel terms, which you can find here.

In this article, I start with the observation that incel culture appears to have become significantly more extreme over the last few years (and indeed the last few months). I’m going to interrogate the causes of this radicalisation, making a few arguments. First, I’ll expand on precisely what we mean by the blackpill, contrasting it with the redpill (if you’ve read my incel work before, you might want to skip this bit). From there, I’ll go on to make the distinction between violence and determinism as two axes on which we can understand incel ideology, noting that blackpill theory is primarily concerned with determinism, but that violence is often sought as a consequence of conclusions made from blackpilled determinism. With that framing established, we’ll go through a number of different factors which have played in to the radicalisation of the incel community. First, there’s the influence of chan culture, and the push to extreme views which it inculcates. Second, there’s reddit culture: based on the functionality of reddit as a platform, I’ll show how particular messages are amplified over time. Third, we’ll be looking at the feedback loop between incel communities and the communities like r/IncelTears which are dedicated to calling out their excesses. Fourth, moderation and administration. Drawing on conversations with an admin of incels.me, I’ll look at how the disparate cultures of different incel groups can be accounted for by moderation practices. Fifth and finally I’ll be talking about the toxification of the incel label. I’ll conclude with some words of caution for members of communities who like to call out incels and similar extremist communities.

What is the blackpill?

The vast majority of incels today have taken the blackpill. I’ll let them explain that in their own words:

Blackpill Theory of Sexual Attraction: the idea that mate preferences in WEIRD societies (Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich, Democratic) are primarily guided by lookism, tribalism and, for heterosexual women, heightism. This is generally paired with the recognition that, for some individuals, the relationship between the amount of goal-directed effort expended in order to attract and court preferred mates (either by oft-touted self-help methods or by “one weird trick” courtship techniques) and one’s success rate may be so poorly correlated that, for these individuals, such narrowly targeted effort is naive at best.”

You’re likely already aware of the red pill. Taking it reveals that everything you thought you knew about the world is wrong. Specifically, you realise that feminism is a lie, women are on top, and men are being taken for a ride. In addition, you’re likely to realise that men are primarily judged based on looks (lookism), women are racist in their sexual preferences (tribalism), and short men are really getting a raw deal (heightism). 

The primary difference with the blackpill is that it locates the locus of control over the course of your romantic and sexual life external to you, rather than internal. That means that whilst the red pill says that you can overcome the unfairness of the world by going to the gym, working on your personality, and becoming high-status in various aspects of your life, the blackpill says that none of that matters. It’s all a cope - something you do, consciously or unconsciously, to try and deal with the reality that you’re going to be lonely forever.

Violence and determinism: two axes of the blackpill

One important distinction: incel ideology has multiple moving parts, and violent content doesn’t necessarily equate to extremism in other aspects. Incel views can (crudely) be mapped on two axes. The first is violence: what would they like to do to others? On the most extreme end of this, there are calls for genocide and graphic depictions of torture and murder. Example: the Epilogue of Elliot Rodger’s manifesto has a passage in which he talks about the concentration camps he would like to build, in which he would keep all women, and watch them slowly die. He also fantasises frequently about killing couples, in particular flaying men alive in front of their girlfriends. (Obviously, the most violent thing he actually did was to murder six people and wound a number of others.) In terms of violence, Rodger was way on one side of the scale. Other points on that axis include things like arguing for the government to distribute girlfriends (a proposal made by incels including Marjan Siklic, a Croatian incel blogger who is one of the more notable and controversial members of the community); or not wishing violence on women at all, but simply wishing they could get laid. The latter group are, I argue, slowly becoming more marginal within incel communities.

The second axis of ideology is determinism: to what extent do incels believe that their life-courses are predetermined by factors outside of their control. On one side of this would be redpilled members: those who believe that they can individually manage to obtain a relationship if they work at themselves. On the other side are those who are fully blackpilled: they believe that no matter what they do, there is absolutely nothing that could change their success with women. Even if they were to become rich, get jacked in the gym, and achieve success in an array of other fields, they would still never be able to confidently acquire and keep a partner, because they are facially ugly. Even if they were to get married, they say, their spouse would be constantly looking to cheat on them with Chad. Nothing can change that.

The argument I’m making here is that these two axes are to some degree interrelated, but not perfectly correlated. Incels can be incredibly violent but not fully blackpilled, or fully blackpilled but not wish for violent solutions. Elliot Rodger, for example, was violent but relatively redpilled. He believed that if he became rich, he could escape his incel status: in some of the last years of his life he pinned his hopes entirely on winning the lottery, and before that he thought he was going to be a famous inventor or author. He also tried going to the gym in the belief that it might help him. He was never fully blackpilled: even when he drove off to what he knew would be his death, he believed that if circumstances had been different, he would have been fine.

Incels who are the most determinist are probably more likely to be more violent in the kinds of measures they believe ought to be taken in order to rectify the situation. On an analytical level, it seems intuitive: if you think that the world is unfair, but you can change that for yourself, you’re probably less likely to believe that you should have bloody vengeance on those who’ve wronged you than someone who believes that the world is utterly unjust, you’ve been shafted, and there’s nothing you can do about it. It would be interesting to know if there are significant demographic correlations here, but in the absence of a survey answered by members of the incel community on their own attitudes (which I would love to do, but am deeply uncertain would be epistemologically sound even if I could get access) I don’t want to make further assumptions.

How and why is the blackpill changing?

What it means to be blackpilled or redpilled changes over time, as does the concept of incel itself. One of the more recent developments in the blackpilled community is the laser-focus on facial structure as determinative of life outcomes. A popular meme in r/braincels, one of the most popular current incel communities, shows a picture of a human jawbone and says that every outcome in your life has essentially been dictated by it. This shift towards the most extreme determinist interpretations of the blackpill, I argue, comes from five different factors.

First, there’s chan culture. The culture of 4chan and related image boards (notably 8chan, occasionally pronounced “infinity chan”, which was founded during GamerGate by individuals who believed that 4chan was too censorious) is one that encourages the most extreme viewpoints. Chans are fast-moving boards with enormous quantities of content produced every hour, and so staying on the front page is extremely difficult unless you create something that stands out. In addition, anons (chan posters are almost always anonymous) pride themselves on shock value, posting content designed to “trigger”, offend, and chime with a particular dark sense of humour. 

Incel culture has been influenced significantly by chan culture, and especially later instantiations of incel forums (such as incels.me) tend to have a significant amount of content posted extremely quickly. Again, the consequence is that the most extreme opinions tend to attract the most attention, and start to bubble up as the apparent norm of opinion within the group. It may well be that the most extreme incel opinions are not the dominant norm, but the loudest members have a tendency to also be those with the most time to spend on the forum, who become the most immersed, and also have the most at stake in whatever ideology they’re propagating.

Secondly, there’s reddit culture, or the platform politics of reddit. Without wanting to get bogged down in the academic literature around “affordances” and “platform politics” (though it’s a great literature! Read Adrienne Massanari’s paper on reddit, GamerGate, and the Fappening!), reddit has particular features which lend themselves to the formation of particular kinds of cultures. For one, it has a voting system on user-submitted content. Content gets shown to the most users if it’s upvoted the most. That means that a kind of groupthink dominates individual subreddits: you can post precisely the same content in two different places, and have it upvoted to high heaven or downvotes into oblivion depending on where you’ve put it. The consequence of this is that cultures tend to be self-reinforcing: people post things they think will get approval, and then those things get upvoted, and become further exemplars of what gets approval, and so on. Incel culture is in no way immune to this. r/braincels has come to look more and more like a parody of itself, with users posting content that would have been laughed out of the room a year or so ago and gaining a massive number of upvotes for it.

A further feature of reddit is that users see a large number of posts on one page, and can scroll through them with ease. That means that something really needs to stick out in order to get eyeballs and upvotes. As such, users lean towards content that has a simple message, or is overtly visual, in order to stand out from the pack. Long, nuanced text posts just don’t get upvotes (usually), and they take a lot more effort than posting a screenshot of a conversation with a sensationalist caption. Absent significant moderation, communities tend to degrade over time as users play to the expectations and mores of the audience. This further compounds the simplification of incel messages, and consequently the most radical ideas become more likely to be those that are seen and upvoted. 

The third factor is a feedback loop between incel boards and communities dedicated to calling them out. r/Inceltears is a subreddit whose denizens spend their time screenshooting posts from incel boards and posting them for others to see, often with disparaging captions. This plays a role in exposing some of the most extreme opinions in the community, but the obvious consequence is that the most extreme opinions are those which get the most airtime, because they’re the ones which get most of a rise out of the audience. This creates the perception not just amongst incels, but also amongst their critics, that incel culture is dominated by the most extreme voices. One of the effects of this is that some incels push back on the opinions which IT posts, arguing that they’re actually valid points of view which are substantiated by analysis or evidence. A good example of this comes in the form of r/blackpillscience, a subreddit set up with the explicit purpose of substantiating blackpill ideology primarily through the use of peer-reviewed evidence. Without the substantial mockery that incel beliefs have received from external sources, I’d posit it’s unlikely that they would be setting up offshoot communities dedicated to corroborating their worldview. In response to attempts to make them look absurd - and, in many cases, violent and unstable - some members lean in to that absurdity, whilst others resist through the creation of content that attempts to show precisely the opposite. In either case, they’re responding to critique by doubling down on the elements of their culture that have come under scrutiny.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that users on reddit will upvote content for performative reasons (in the sense that they do so to make a point). If users are aware that IncelTears and others who dislike them are watching, they will often upvote material that they think is unpopular with those users. Essentially, it’s “upvoting to trigger the libs”. They also often believe that they’re being brigaded, which is where a large group of users from another subreddit comes over and downvotes posts in their community en masse. The result of this is, again, a defensive and reflexive upvoting of the content that they believe most likely to be targeted by brigades. This further pushes them out to the extremes. 

Additionally (and this is the third factor), incel culture has morphed towards extremism as a result of a victim complex or bunker mentality. Since r/incels was kicked off reddit and the original offshoot sites were delisted by hosting service GoDaddy, the community has become more and more concerned with the idea that they are being silenced, and that malign forces are out to get them. They’re probably correct, to an extent: a lot of r/IncelTears members would be very happy to see their sites taken off the internet, and the admin of incels.me I spoke to is likely also right to believe that the site is being observed by law enforcement at this point in time. They know they’re being watched, and whilst one effect of that might be to chill the most outspoken advocates of extremism (or to shunt them into hidden subforums), the most visible impact is that users distrust the rest of society even more, and withdraw further into their own community.

This brings in the fourth factor: moderation and administration. It’s worth noting that the incel community is not without internal conflict over ideology. The less extreme members tend to be found on r/braincels, and some who reject what the incel label has come to represent can instead be found on r/foreveralone or elsewhere. On incels.me, there are regular calls to arms for female genocide. Speaking to an admin of the site, I was told that they “wouldn’t really do much if we thought someone was going to commit an act of violence”, though they were “pretty sure that the [law enforcement agencies] that watch the forum daily have it handled”. Their approach to moderation is essentially laissez-faire: “We don’t remove anything unless it’s [child pornography] or direct violent threats. For example, if someone says they’re going to go shoot up a school tomorrow, that type of post wouldn’t be allowed.” You can also get banned for being female. Comparatively, r/braincels has a more stringent moderation policy. There is at least one woman on the moderation team (a source of enormous contention within the community), and overtly violent content is moderated out. In addition, any content which breaks reddit’s site wide rules gets cut: doxxing, harassment, and violence (though the latter is contestable). The result is that r/braincels is significantly less extreme in terms of the content you tend to see than incels.me.

Fifth and finally, there’s the toxification of the label. Incels have now had at least two men commit massacres in their name. Some incels might dispute this, but the public perception is that the community has produced two mass murderers over the last four years. It takes a particular kind of resolve to remain part of the community when outsiders are so bent on portraying you as violent men with the potential to commit acts of misogynist terror. It’s my suspicion (though I cannot confirm this) that some of those who previously identified as incels have likely gone elsewhere as the term has become deeply toxic. That might be because they still believe the same things but don’t want to be in communities that are subject to surveillance. It might be because they’ve been shaken from their beliefs by these acts and the subsequent discourse around them. It might just be because they don’t want to be associated with the most violent members of their community. Regardless, the overall impact is that the “incel brand” has essentially become radioactive. There are numerous facebook groups dedicated to mocking incels, some of which have multiple thousands of members, and much of the content posted in them actually has little to nothing to do with incels. Instead, “incel” has become a byword for “virulently misogynist man”, in the same way as “nice guy”, “neckbeard” or “fedora” a few years ago. Some people don’t want to be associated with that, and the ones who are still willing to tie their identity to it are more likely to be the most extreme.

Conclusions - is IncelTears a force for good?

In future pieces, I want to look a bit more deeply at the current state of blackpill ideology: what, precisely, incels are arguing, and how they’re supporting it. Here though I’m just trying to work through an analysis of why communities like this tend to become more extreme. The most important takeaway is that this is not inevitable: there are measures that can be taken to prevent the degradation of a community into extremism. The difficulty is that those who have the power to prevent it are usually moderators and administrators, and when they are sympathetic to the more extreme members of their community (or at least are unwilling to boot them out or censor them), those voices tend to be the loudest. I’d still argue that reddit banning r/incels was likely the right call; if nothing else, the number of subscribers to r/braincels or members of incels.me is far lower than r/incels at its peak. However, I’d be cautious about celebrating movement en masse towards sparsely moderated platforms where genuinely worrying views are allowed to thrive. 

Some incel communities are becoming more violent, particularly incels.me and its offshoots. What actually worries me more is the move towards determinism that I argue makes them more likely to act upon violent beliefs. If you see no way out from the injustice the world has wrought upon you, it becomes significantly more tempting to engage in violence - perhaps even to come to a violent end of one sort or another. That shift towards hard determinism is something I’ve noticed on r/braincels, and if it becomes widespread then it’s going to become ever harder for incels to see any way out of their predicament.

My final words of warning here are to members of r/inceltears: be careful about how you portray the communities you despise. Whilst it’s important to shed light on genuinely awful views, there’s a tendency towards sensationalism which might actually be driving them towards further radicalism. I’m definitely guilty here: I know that I’ve often quoted some of the most awful things found on incel forums because they’re the things that are most likely to make people sit up and pay attention. Moving forward, I’m uncertain that this is the best possible strategy. Unfortunately, I don’t have more answers than that at the present time.

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Coming soon: THE BLACKPILL, DEBUNKED. A series in which I take a deep dive into the best evidence that incels provide in support of their foundational ideology, the blackpill. I'll be exploring evolutionary psychology, social scientific methodology, and using concepts from the philosophy of science to explore how incels try to substantiate the idea that "looks matter most", "personality means nothing", "nice guys finish last", and more. Watch this space, subscribe to receive emails when new posts come out, or become a patron to receive early and exclusive access.

Debunking the Blackpill - Part One: "Looks are everything, personality is nothing"

Debunking the Blackpill - Part One: "Looks are everything, personality is nothing"

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