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Responsibility must be placed on online platforms to prevent this toxic ideology from gaining credence and indoctrinating more young men.
Last week saw the UK’s worst mass-casualty shooting since the 2010 Cumbria shootings. My thoughts and prayers go out to the friends and family of those who lost their lives in this horrific incident, and to the community as they recover from this act of terrorism.
While a direct motive for the attack is still unknown, the gunman’s recent YouTube activity has caused speculation over his probable links to online women-hate groups referred to as incels (involuntary celibates). These murders are a stark reminder of the serious threat posed to women in particular, but also men, by incel culture.
The vicious hatred these incels hold for women can often be seen in the form of online “trolling” on social media platforms, sickening rape fantasies and violent death threats
Incels understand society to be hierarchised along the lines of sexual attractiveness. These misogynists blame women and society for their lack of status and for forcing them into “involuntary celibacy”. While these groups spend a majority of their time bitterly cursing women for their lack of dating success within their online forums, their misogynistic hatred is not self-contained and the rise in social media has seen their toxicity spill out from their private groups.
The vicious hatred these incels hold for women can often be seen in the form of online “trolling” on social media platforms, sickening rape fantasies and violent death threats. More worryingly, however, their hatred has at times been manifested in deadly terror attacks such as the one which took place in Plymouth.
Thursday’s attack has demonstrated that we can no longer view incels as harmless online hate groups, or mere internet trolls. A spate of deadly incel attacks across the Atlantic and now here in the UK has made clear that at the root of incel ideology is a poisonous hatred for women and society that manifests in violent acts of terror.
After the deadly 2018 Toronto van attack, perpetrated by incel extremist Alek Minassian, the Canadian authorities took the first step to tackling these misogynist groups by concluding the incel movement was a form of violent extremism. It’s time for the UK government to declare a similar commitment to tackling this dangerous subculture before more incel attacks take place. This must start with bringing forward the Online Harms Bill without further delay.
I raised a question in the Commons to this effect in July. The response I received sought to reassure myself and other women of how the Bill may better enable women to report online abuse and make clearer “the links between what online companies say they do and what they actually do”. At no point during this response did the Minister indicate when this much-needed Bill would be brought forward.
I raised this question fearing that, with the rise in incel popularity, that the UK may see similar attacks like those experienced across the Atlantic. Now that the threat posed by incel ideology in the UK has been tragically realised, the government must take action to prevent any further attacks.
In addition to this, action must be taken to protect young, vulnerable men who chance upon incel content and quickly find themselves being indoctrinated with the toxic misogynist ideology with the help of social media algorithms.
Young men do not suddenly wake up one day with a violent hatred of women, nor do they actively seek out incel content. Often, they find themselves having chanced upon these groups, starting with what appears to be a relatively harmless far-right YouTube video only to then be led down a rabbit hole of incel content, guided by the helpful hand of the YouTube algorithm. Responsibility must be placed on online platforms to prevent this toxic ideology from gaining credence and indoctrinating more young men.
The government cannot sit back and do nothing as extremist incel groups gain popularity and increase their membership. If they are serious about protecting women, they will bring forward their Online Harms Bill and commit to taking genuine steps to tackle violent misogynistic online hate groups.
Bell Ribeiro-Addy is the Labour MP for Streatham.
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