Content warning: lots of misogyny, sexual assault, racism, violence.
I have spent quite a lot of time engaging with incels (“involuntary celibates”) on Reddit in the past. Their highly misogynistic, often racist, and downright petulant worldview is a perfect storm of wilful ignorance, blind hatred, and childlike tantrum-throwing.
Incels, for those who don’t know, are a disparate community of women-haters who believe that women are both worthless objects and also the most important things in the universe. Incels believe that all men deserve love and affection from the women who they find most attractive, and that the best way of going about receiving that affection is to rape and murder them.
Although incels deserve nothing more than total ignominy and dismissal, I was fascinated by the blind rage and pig-headedness of the average incel opinion I saw floating around on Reddit. I eventually started talking to a few in private messages, trying to learn about their lives and offering a compassionate response, letting them know that there was a way out of their destructive ways of thinking (Yes, I know – misguided and maybe plain wrong, but I wanted to try).
After a few months the hatred I was receiving left me agitated and unhappy, and I realised that my mental health was not worth sacrificing for the one or two incels who would eventually say “Well maybe it’s not all women’s fault then” after hours of painstaking back-and-forth.
Recently I got pulled back into incel territory when I saw one Reddit user asserting that the incel community is mostly made up of minorities:
Complete with the old “The anti-fascists are the real fascists” line, this guy quickly had me intrigued. If they were a troll, they were a very good one. It was of course more likely they were just a moron.
The idea that incels, famously almost exclusively young straight white cis-men, were actually one of the most diverse communities of any online space, was a fascinating proposal!
Unfortunately, our hero (let’s call him ‘W,’ shown with the black rectangle here) was at first reticent about providing evidence:
Aha, a challenge! W insists that we do our own research, since that’s the way debate works: The opposition makes a wildly counter-intuitive claim, and then waits for the defence to go find the evidence that supports it.
Well, I’m not one to back down from a quest, especially one that only takes five seconds! I googled “Incel demographics” and copy-pasted what I found on the resulting Wikipedia page for the benefit of all who were desperate for this information.
Unfortunately, this only proved W right, apparently:
So let’s dig in a little deeper to what W is saying. It appears the study he is basing his claims off is a paper in the Journal of Language Aggression and Conflict. I’ve read the paper, and it concerns a very un-tested language-recognition system that scanned an incel forum and returned a result that suggests there might be some ethnic diversity there. Keep in mind that the researchers themselves say it’s hard to come to any conclusions about the true demographics from their study, which is preliminary and uncontrolled.
W also mentions a self-report survey that was carried out on an incel forum that seems to show greater than 50% are ethnic minorities. As tempting as it is for me to take this hard science at face value, there’s of course a slight possibility that incels (being the notoriously racist trolls that they are) falsified the results of this survey in order to “own the libs.”
So I was ready to count this one as a lost cause and move on with my life. I decided to let W know how entertaining this had been for me, and walk away.
But I should have known better than to goad the raging incel. W was not ready to leave, and put an enticing offer on the table:
It certainly caught my eye. A thousand dollars to charity? And, magnanimously of W, it could even be a charity “for women abuse or anything.” How generous! Not only that, W was promising to delete his account and never post any more incel nonsense ever again!
And all I had to do was prove that he was talking shit.
Naturally my first thought was that this was too good to be true. Yet another bad-faith promise from one more internet troll, probably a 14-year old with a raging hard-on sitting in his bedroom enjoying the feeling of grandeur he received from dehumanising women on the internet.
Yet W was insistent…
I thought about it. You know what, he’s right – it would only take me a few minutes to write out the logical response. And maybe that would be worth the less than 1% chance that he would actually concede defeat and send the money to charity. An expected value of $10 to a women’s rights charity is not bad for a couple minutes of work.
So I typed up my response, and sent it with misguided levels of optimism:
Taking the rather quaint assumption that someone who makes an assertion should provide evidence, I awaited W’s response.
A whole day later, and nothing. So I gave him a prod (I was eager to start the process of getting this donation into the right hands):
Ah, so he just needed more time to clarify what kind of logic he was expecting from me. Fair enough. I’ll wait.
Unfortunately, it’s now been over a week since that last message.
In the absence of my $1,000, I’d like to apologise to 28 Too Many, the anti-FGM charity I was planning on sending the money too, for my failure to use an acceptable form of logical argument. I have made a small donation of £20 on behalf of W, and to make up for the time I wasted on this venture, that I could have been using to actually earn money and contribute to society.
I still have to reflect on why I continue to spend time engaging with people who I know are bad-faith actors, anonymously trolling me on the internet. Maybe I still have hope that I can one day reform an incel and make a friend doing so. Maybe I just take malicious pleasure from watching them work themselves into a frenzy over their own abject failures.
When I get to the bottom of it, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, thanks W. Although you apparently weren’t actually “100% serious” about your offer, you’ve still contributed to making the world a very, very slightly safer place for women and girls.
Now make it safer for them and make good on your promise. I’ll be waiting.