In recent years, it has become increasingly obvious that social media has been used by groups with extremist views as a way to spread propaganda, and influence impressionable people. Last year the UK’s Counter-Terrorism Internet Referral Unit (CTIRU) said over 7% more pieces of suspected online terrorism content had been reported to them during 2020 compared with the year before, reflecting global trends.
One such group, known as Incels (short for ‘involuntary celibates’), perpetuate a misogynistic ideology on social media referred to as “the Blackpill”, an idea based on the belief that, due to their lack of success in dating, these men are the true oppressed group in society. Incels also see feminism as a front for the suppression of males, and think that women should be stripped of their rights, as they are dangerous and need to be controlled. In extreme cases, this can culminate in real-life violence against women, such as the recent mass shooting in Plymouth by self-proclaimed incel Jake Davison. What is disturbing about situations like this is how easily some young men are radicalised. This process can even start with children, under the noses of oblivious parents.
Unrestricted access to the internet has always been a danger for children, with inappropriate and harmful content available from one wrong click. Ofcom estimates that one-third of British children aged 12-15 have encountered sexist, racist or discriminatory content. Parents are becoming increasingly aware of such dangers and features such as child locks and apps requiring parental permission prevent these to an extent. However, because it may outwardly seem innocuous, the majority of misogynistic content is able to slip past these filters. Some Youtubers, for example, make innocent-seeming videos aimed at young boys while simultaneously having opinionated content publicly available on their channel. For example, the gaming Youtuber PewDiePie is also notorious for his ‘edgy humour,’ which borders on the sexist and offensive. During a Twitch stream in which fans sent him lewd videos of women, he commented, “If a girl dresses like that, she wants you to look, right? Am I crazy for thinking that?” As the most-subscribed individual Youtuber (110 million and counting), his content is incredibly easy to find. Therefore, this can place impressionable boys on a path towards more extremist creators, who often present their hateful views about women and society as fact.
At the very end of this pipeline of sexist views, young boys can find members of the incel community even if they set out from a point of innocence and ignorance. A now-deleted Reddit user summarises the situation: ‘The YouTube algorithm is one of the most effective radicalisation strategies there is.’ Of course, such gateways to incel culture are prevalent on almost every social media site, starting as harmlessly as a question proposed to a forum on Reddit, or viewing posts under certain hashtags on Instagram. Reddit in particular is known as a breeding ground for incels, with popular subreddits such as ‘r/Braincels’ perpetuating this. An informal poll of 1267 members of this group found that 90% were under the age of 30, demonstrating how the new generation dominates this modernised, radical wave of sexism. So, how can we prevent this from continuing within today’s youth?
The answer is simple: communication. The easiest way to prevent this, or at least diminish its effects, is to talk with your family members, especially younger individuals who may be susceptible to this sort of manipulation. While parents may have general conversations about equality to their sons, they are unaware of the threats posed by online communities that appear safe to an outsider. Checking in is key, as is ensuring children are educated on the nuances of radical groups like incels, as this will ultimately be the only way we can prevent other young men from falling into their trap.