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What The Rise Of Incels Reveal About Conspiracy In The Digital Age

Incels, short for involuntary celibates, are a growing community of misogynists who gather primarily within online forums. Their inability to find sexual partners despite their desire for them has created an extremist culture of hatred towards women, which ultimately serves to reveal the extent of the internet’s cultural and conspiratorial influence. 

Angela Nagle’s book Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars from 4chan and Tumblr to Trump and the Alt-Right, contains a chapter called Entering the Manosphere in which she reveals the findings of her investigative research of these forums. What she finds is “rampant hateful misogyny, bitterness, conspiratorial thinking” and a frustrating contradiction of wanting “the benefits of tradition without its necessary restraints and duties”, where there is a simultaneous desire for “the best of the sexual revolution (sexual success with pornified women, perpetually dolled up, waxed and willing to do anything) without the attendant insecurities of a society in which women have sexual choice and freedom.”

A study by the Centre for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) has warned that major incel forum discussions are becoming increasingly violent, with posts about rape being published to one forum every 29 minutes. The CCDH's report avoids naming the forum so as not to enable it any more publicity, but says that it is the largest online forum with more than 17,000 members and 2.6 million visits a month. This forum is just one of the many online incel groups promoting violent ideologies, with posts mentioning incel mass murders rising by 59% between 2021 and 2022.

In the wake of Elliot Rodger killing six people along with himself and injuring 14, many have begun to question the extremist influence of these online forums. Rodger left a 137-page manifesto transcribing his desire to "to punish everyone who is sexually active", and to bring about the "second phase" of a "War on Women." Since this attack in 2014, all that has seemingly changed within this culture is the shape of its online landscape. 

It is no longer solely the work of echo chambers perpetuating these ideas, where incels have their own experiences and opinions amplified and reinforced to them. Influencer culture also has a developing and underestimated influence on incels and misogyny in general. Influencers of the past such as pick up artist Roosh V, whose writing contains questions such as “how can any man who approaches a girl today see her as more than a c-- bucket?”, have not been able to possess quite the same reach as the influencers of today. 

The infamous social media personality Andrew Tate currently has 8.5 million followers on the social media platform X. He became a huge topic of debate after being temporarily banned from the platform for saying that women should "bear some responsibility" for being sexually assaulted, and has since grown in popularity particularly within the demographic of young men. His hyper-masculine millionaire lifestyle has placed him in a global realm of notoriety and popularity rarely before seen amongst misogyny influencers. The BBC have reported that teachers in schools across the UK are becoming increasingly concerned at the rise of young boys quoting Andrew Tate. Research has also revealed that more young men in the UK have seen Andrew Tate’s material than have heard of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

In the summer of 2023, he was charged with rape, human trafficking, and forming an organised crime group to sexually exploit women in Romania. Prosecutors named seven alleged victims who were recruited by Tate and his brother. The alleged victims were then placed under constant surveillance, forced into debt, and to take part in pornography which was later shared on social media. Tate and his associates deny these allegations, and the outcome of the trial remains to be seen.

Though Andrew Tate is a controversial figure even within incel forums, his persona and misogynistic style of influence echoes many of the values and operational tactics seen within these forums on a much larger scale and in a much more open way. Within our new digital age, this brand of cultural influence and opinion is often packaged as fact.  For incels, their views are augmented through the sharing of their individual phenomenological experiences. What begins as a solo experience of women, or lack thereof, quickly matures into a collective experience where online forums have the power to mould frustration into hatred.

Nagle’s research reveals how many on the notorious Red Pill incel forum believe that there is a “hierarchy in the world politically when it comes to women and non-whites”, where the feminist movement has placed them at the bottom of the social order. The backlash to developments in women’s rights over the years has not only resulted in an uptake of misogyny, whether that be in the form of incel culture or Andrew Tate fans, but also in the idea that the world is conspiring against men.

The way we map the world has now expanded and become more complex via the creation of the internet. We are often provided with the illusion of having full access to the complex myriad of systems at work around us, when in reality the world is so heavily globalised that it is more complex than we could imagine. Philospopher and critic Fredrich Jameson sees conspiracy as a product of our inability to map these complexities. Yet the added complexities of the digital world create even greater complications to our individual perceptions. 

The heightened effect of this new style of influencer culture along with the classic modes of echo chambers and algorithm pipelines, is perpetuating a brand of conspiratorial thinking with very real cultural effects. For many of these misogynist groups, the feminist movement is on par with organisations like the New World Order and the Illuminati for its association with conspiracy theories. Yet, the violent outputs and reactions to this line of conspiratorial thinking transcend from this digital space, and exist within the very real culture of hatred and violent attacks towards women.

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