From loneliness to extremism: The online culture of “Incels”

Written by Annie Wilson

Illustration by Sapphire Ink

Scour the dark corners of the web and you are sure to find things you wish you had never seen; organ donors, drugs, child pornography, fantasy fiction and online extremist forums.

Sometimes, these dark corners bleed into the real world, affect lives and hurt people. The Incel community is an example of this. Incel, which stands for ‘involuntarily celibate,’ is a globally represented online forum which was started in 1993 by a student called Alana. It was created as a safe space for people to share discussions around being an involuntary virgin.

However, in 2019, the community is shaped by shared values, jargon, memes, trolls and fearful dialogues of movements, uprising and violence. It has also become associated with multiple crimes and 3 mass murders since 2014. 

Source: USA Today

What struck me about the 2019 documentary Inside the Secret World of Incels was the amalgamation of strong themes. Misogyny is at the core of the Incel culture.

The community believes that there is some form of social law, where only ‘attractive’ individuals give out and receive intimacy, including sexual gratification and relationships. They believe that attractive males are alphas and Incels are therefore the betas – and they are highly frustrated with this theory because Incels believe they are owed the intimacy that they crave. 

The very notion that you are owed intimacy or sexual gratification is deeply problematic. It is objectifying that it’s the women who owe sex to the men. Further objectification can be found within their cult-like labels such as ‘femoids’ and the jargon they use when describing catching women and ‘snagging them in.’ Another word is ‘oneitis’ which is a term they use to describe their ‘one true love’.

Source: Imgur

Within the documentary you meet the Catfishman, bitter towards the female sex and who contributes towards the dangers of online dating. In the name of all the women that have rejected him, he seeks ‘heroic’ reputation by posing as an online model on dating apps. When they arrive, he is waiting, filming on his phone, yelling at their appearance and their shallowness. He believes he is ‘exposing them for what they truly are.’

Catfishman, Source: BBC

Catfishman boasts that he believes women are not people. He claims that he would not behave this way towards women if he was in a relationship. However, he was domestically violent to his only ex who now has a restraining order against him. 

This culture of violence is widespread among Incels. Whether or not this is violence to self, violence to women or the general public; there have been 3 mass murders in Northern America and Canada, the most recent being only last November. These terrorists all have history of poor mental health and are part of the darkest side of the Incel community – the ‘beta uprising.’

One of the mass murderers, Elliot Rodger, left behind a manifesto which willed for lawful rape and a cleansing of society. He went on to murder 6 people and injuring 14, before killing himself. His original plan was to shoot up a sorority house. However, he was not successful and took to the public – shooting at men’s genitals, blonde women, and finally, himself. His Incel fans call him the ‘supreme gentleman’ and have dedicated songs, memes and vlogs to the terrorist.

Elliot Rodger, Source: The Twist Gossip

Chris Harper-Mercer killed 9 people and injured 8 before killing himself at a shooting in Oregon. William Atchinson, killed 2 in Mexico. Nikolas Cruz, killed 17 and injured another 17 in 2018. Alek Minassian killed 10 with a van in 2018. George Sodini. Stephen Paddock. Scott Beierle. Christopher Cleary. Bryan Isaak Clyde. All have killed or have planned to kill in the name of the Incel community.

Social rejection, poor mental health and radicalisation of the vulnerable, the Incel belief system fits quite neatly into the minds of those ‘outsiders’ seeking community. Perhaps they’re not even initial misogynists but lonely and exiled from society, seeking connection in an online forum.

Source: Imgur

Typically, the forum expresses feelings of disconnection with society, isolation and suicidal thoughts. Echo chambers are typical environments for extremism to cultivate in. Many use the phrase ‘lie down and rot,’ suggesting they are inherently too ugly and are destined to remain virgins.

A lot of Incels believe that bettering themselves and complying with society is futile. This, combined with self-deprivation and depressive thoughts can create the most dangerous individuals: angry people with nothing to live for.

Peel back the layers of extremism and you will see lonely men who aren’t coping. One victim’s father said ‘my daughter died because an individual couldn’t cope,’ and this unfortunate combination of misogyny and mental health, cultivated and groomed in an unmonitored online community – leads women to continue to fear what waits on corners and what lies in the future. 

Edited by Shazmeen Khalid & Stephanie Kleanthous

If you'd like to publish your work on, shoot us an email:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *