ICYMI: Fringe internet culture can’t stay in the fringes

Useful and insightful commentary as usual Amarnath Amarasingam on “incel” radicalization:

Combine powerful online echo chambers, the perceived decline of the white male, a surge in online troll culture and groups of angry and alienated men, and you have a powerful cocktail for dangerous radicalization.

As of yet, we don’t have proof that these conditions led to the horrific van attack in Toronto that left 10 dead and 14 injured. But we do have a clue: a Facebook post on the page of Alek Minassian, charged in Monday’s attacks, talking about the “Incel Rebellion.”

Incels or “involuntary celibates” are those who are essentially forced into celibacy because they cannot find a sexual partner. Many of the young men who join this movement feel ignored, and the groups of which they are a part have likewise been ignored by mainstream society. That’s why many of us hadn’t heard the term “incel” until this week.

As we learn more about Minassian’s history, it might very well turn out that the incel movement was not the primary factor in his decision to get behind the wheel. But it’s worth discussing regardless, because as many of us are beginning to realize, fringe internet culture can cause real social harm.

Incels operate across the same platforms as a range of extreme right activists — platforms such as Reddit, 4chan and 8chan, and use communications channels such as Discord, the gaming chat application noted for its use by activists seeking to influence European elections in favour of far right groups.

In fact, the movement plays off of similar tropes and language as the extreme right, using terms like “cuck” and “feminazi.”

The ideological nexus that ties these groups together is the perception of (white) masculinity being under threat from external forces such as women, people of colour, refugees and the political left, combined with a hatred of social progressive values that empower previously marginalized communities.

Normies, Chads and Stacys

These incel individuals, who often suffer from a range of vulnerabilities including anxiety and autistic spectrum disorders, flourish in digital fora that provide them with the opportunity to embrace their identity as outsiders, relishing in their role as “beta male.”

In the confines of these incel echo chambers, they blame their social misfortune on their peers who have fewer issues engaging in social activities — people they label as “normies,” “Chads” and “Stacys.”

Normies, a term originating on 4Chan and referring to anything and anyone who is mainstream, includes Chads, a nickname used to describe good looking men who have no difficulty finding women who will sleep with them, and Staceys who are women who always reject incels in favour of Chads. The behaviours that the “betas” feel incapable of achieving offline — such as social confidence and intimate relationships — are projected onto these imagined boogeymen.

Many of these youth needed support, though some of them may have turned to established social institutions already for help in the past. Today, they’re increasingly finding it in these closed-off online collectives, talking with like-minded and equally alienated individuals, which ends up amplifying and reinforcing — rather than addressing and counteracting — their angst and anger.

As with all cases of radicalization, under the right set of psychological and personal conditions, individuals can be pushed to violence. Thousands of youth may feel these grievances, but only a few may ever decide that violence is a necessary way to express themselves. Even after decades of research in terrorist radicalization, the question of who might ultimately turn to violence is still beyond our grasp.

Elliot Rodger is the primary example of an incel radicalized to the point of violence. In 2014, the 22-year-old killed six people in Isla Vista, California, after posting a manifesto about his hatred of women and desire to punish them for rejecting him. His violence was later lauded on the fringes of the internet, fostering a range of distasteful memes and helping to reinforce the mythos of the group.

Academic discourse around “fragile masculinity” has long pointed out that we need to start taking these grievances more seriously, particularly among youth. Many of these online discussions are overflowing with worrisome levels of toxic masculinity and anger. In the mindset of those who occupy these spaces, they are trapped between the strong men they cannot become, and the weak men who reinforce the feminism that they see as ostracising and oppressing them.

Ultimately, these communities are providing a home to those who feel unable to find a place in mainstream society. The attitudes espoused therein must be challenged, but more importantly, these individuals must be offered an opportunity to engage with those outside of their echo chambers, through meaningful interventions and support.

 

Source: Fringe internet culture can’t stay in the fringes

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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