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The Red-Handed Red Pill: The Role of Social Media in Incel Violence


This article contains language that some may find distressing. When speaking of violent criminals in this article, I will refer to them by their initials, in accordance with the recommendation and example of Kelly, DiBranco & DeCook (2021).

Social media is a fantastic tool for creating communities. Thousands of people have connected with long-lost family and friends, found groups of like-minded people, and discovered interests they never would’ve dreamt of through the likes of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, amongst others.

But what happens when communities go bad? What happens when, with the help of social media, people are driven towards violent crime by radicalising content on their screens?

The misogynistic (strongly prejudiced against women) incel community tells us the answer to these questions.

My orchestration of the Day of Retribution is my attempt to do everything, in my power, to destroy everything I cannot have. All of those beautiful girls I’ve desired so much in my life, but can never have because they despise and loathe me, I will destroy. All of those popular people who live hedonistic lives of pleasure, I will destroy, because they never accepted me as one of them. I will kill them all and make them suffer, just as they have made me suffer. It is only fair.

Why do things have to be this way? I’m sure that is the question everyone will be asking after the Day of Retribution is over. They will all be asking why. Indeed, why? That is the question I’ve had for everyone throughout all my years of suffering. Why was I condemned to live a life of misery and worthlessness while other men were able to experience the pleasures of sex and love with women? Why do things have to be this way? I ask all of you.

All I ever wanted was to love women, and in turn to be loved by them back. Their behaviour towards me has only earned my hatred, and rightfully so! I am the true victim in all of this. I am the good guy. Humanity struck at me first by condemning me to experience so much suffering. I didn’t ask for this. I didn’t want this. I didn’t start this war… I wasn’t the one who struck first… But I will finish it by striking back. I will punish everyone. And it will be beautiful. Finally, at long last, I can show the world my true worth.

These paragraphs conclude the Santa Barbara attacker’s manifesto, My Twisted World, sent to his parents on 23rd May, 2014. Along with the upload of a YouTube video, titled ER’s Retribution, which concluded a long list of virulently misogynistic and racist online material, this was the last statement of the 22-year-old, before, that same day, he approached the UC Santa Barbara Campus in Isla Vista California and murdered six people. Fourteen others were injured, and ER then shot himself.

ER has been identified as a misogynist incel. To those unfamiliar with this terminology, ‘incel’ is a shortened form of ‘involuntary celibate’, describing a subset of people who are not able to have sex, despite pursuing and desiring it. The combination of an incel with virulent misogyny is often a recipe for disaster.

The misogynist incel community largely consists of young white males, who are responsible for a wide range of misogynistic, racist, and homophobic vitriol which they have shared online over mostly anonymous platforms. The main social media platforms that these groups use are Reddit, 4chan, and Stormfront, coexisting alongside specialised websites such as PUAHate.com (later Sluthate.com).


These spaces are where much violent misogyny can be easily discovered. For example, in a 2015 ‘Men’s Rights’ post from the r/Red Pill forum on Reddit, we see Reddit user foldpak111 illustrate his view of the difference between men and women (Dignam & Rohlinger 2019):

Dogs act like men, cats act like women. So basically, if you want a loyal best friend who is always going to be there for you when you’re on your knees, get a dog. If you want a passive aggressive bitch who walks around like she owns the place and when you confront her, she hides for a week, get a cat.

In these online spaces, we can clearly detect misogyny. We can also see advice from one man to another on how to manipulate women and ensure sex, alongside posts detailing a man’s sexual ‘victories’. The hatred is obvious, horrifying, and deeply uncomfortable – but this is not simply confined to online hate. It can spill into the violent crime that perpetrators like ER commit.

In many ways, the online community that incels have created through social media, which posts this hate and encourages it in other men, can be considered a direct cause of terrorist violence in recent years. ER, before his killing spree in 2014, wrote in his manifesto (quoted above) that the posts he found on incel forums, and particularly on PUAHate.com, ‘confirmed many of the theories [he] had about how wicked and degenerate women really are’.

Many other violent terror attacks have been linked to incel forums and ideology. CH-M, the murderer of nine students at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, was believed by the FBI to have posted on incel threads on 4chan (an anonymous social media platform), warning people not to go to school the next day. On the forum, he was applauded and advised on his shooting plans by forum members.

AM, in 2018, posted on Facebook that the ‘incel rebellion [had] begun’, and is known to have referenced 4chan and ER online, before driving a van into pedestrians in Toronto, killing ten and injuring fourteen.

We can even track the influence of misogynistic incel ideology and crime upon other, non-incel-identifying criminals in the community. In February 2018, NC killed seventeen at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. Two months before NC, WA killed two students and himself at his old high school in New Mexico. SB shot six women and injured a man, killing two, before killing himself. GS, in 2009, killed three women and himself at LA Fitness in Pennsylvania, injuring nine other women, and left a note in his gym bag describing his deep-rooted hatred for women.

All of these men were active on misogynist incel forums and social media, some even coming up against the FBI, who did nothing to tackle their violent misogyny. Clearly, misogynist incel ideology and misogynist incel presence online has led to violence in the real world.


And there is evidence to suggest that there is a direct link between the intensity of violence in the real world, and the intensity of violence online (Patton et al. (2016), A55).

That isn’t to say that all of those people posting on incel forums on social media and independent websites are violent – the words that they type on their screens might not have violent intent behind them at all – but we can’t deny that, no matter the original poster’s intentions, these posts can still have serious implications and cause great violence outside of our screens.

Social media doesn’t only provide a platform for this misogyny to reach those who will transform it into physical violence – it also makes this violence much worse. As Young (2019 p. 29) has written: ‘Without social media, … [the incel group] would not have had the mechanism to connect with each other, form an ideological group, and be radicalised without social media.’

Misogynist incels have found each other online, and this has formed a group identity and community. This community then plays a key role in inciting those misogynist incels towards violence in the real world, as they are consistently surrounded online by people who share their extremist views, and glorify violence against women.

The social media algorithms that recommend content to users based on what they are most likely to engage with function to create what Colleoni et al. (2014) have called an ‘echo chamber’. This echo chamber then creates an online world in which ‘extremist attitudes and violence are no longer taboos but are seen as positive and desirable’ (Meleagrou-Hitchens et al.), and creates the impression that the extremist views that the user holds are shared by many.

Because of all this, the Counterterrorism Group have stated explicitly that social media companies have a responsibility in addressing their role in the radicalisation of men into misogynistic incel violence, and many social media sites have taken this advice.

Reddit has perhaps done the most to try and combat misogynist incel radicalisation on their platform, banning popular threads of conversation such as r/incels, r/theblackpill, and r/braincels, among others, and placing volunteer moderators in communities at risk of radicalisation as they’re in contact with so much extremist material day after day.

The key issue is, though, that, after being banned from Reddit, these forums have simply migrated onto other social media platforms with less moderation, which has then allowed this radicalisation to continue with no counter-messaging to combat it. Equally, the creation of echo chambers, as previously mentioned, leads to content not being reported because non-radicalised / non-misogynistic users are unlikely to see it. This is something that Donna Zuckerberg, renowned classicist, has criticised her brother, Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, for, in her 2018 book, Not All Dead White Men: Classics and Misogyny in the Digital Age.

One perhaps obvious solution to breaking the chain of misogynistic incel radicalisation that leads to violence would be removing the content, and de-platforming is perhaps a simple answer.

However, there are some unique problems with this. The misogynistic incel community thrive off of their self-perception as a group who are being discriminated against and oppressed. They are the only ones who know ‘the truth’ – and so, by censoring them, social media platforms risk encouraging that self-perception and leading to further radicalisation.

The Counterterrorism Group have offered some recommendations to social media platforms on this issue. These include the removal of violent content and hate speech immediately through AI, flagging and moderating of less extreme misogynistic content, and the direction of both posters and readers of misogynistic incel content towards further resources. They also suggest that no misogynistic incel content should be recommended, manifestos and suicide letters should immediately be moderated and reported to police, and social media platforms should work with governments and NGOs on counter-radicalisation programs.

The most important recommendation, though, is that these policies should be consistent across platforms, to prevent communities migrating to ‘more-accepting’ social media sites. This would require social media competitors to work together and introduce rules that might damage their customer base, and would lose them those all-important clicks from misogynistic incel and other communities – which, perhaps understandably, many social media platforms would be reluctant to do. But they shouldn’t be.

Their loss of engagement, loss of users, and loss of flexibility will save lives.

Fifty-one women died at the hands of the radicalised misogynist incels mentioned in this article. Social media has the power to prevent the deaths of other women, and it is the ethical imperative that companies work to do so.

Anna Coopey
4th year undergraduate student in Classics at The University of St Andrews in Scotland. Keen writer and researcher on a number of topics, varying from Modern Greek literature to revolutionary theory. 
Twitter: @anna_coopey 

Works Cited:
Echo Chamber or Public Sphere? Predicting Political Orientation and Measuring Political Homophily in Twitter Using Big Data (2014) - https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/jcom.12084
Words That Kill? An Economic Model of the Influence of Speech on Behaviour (with Particular Reference to Hate Speech) (2005) - https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/abs/10.1086/425599
Misogynistic Men Online: How The Red Pill Helped Elect Trump (2019) – https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/10.1086/701155
The Ungovernability of Digital Hate Culture (2018) https://jia.sipa.columbia.edu/ungovernability-digital-hate-culture
The Role of Social Media in Advancing Violent Incel Extremism (2021) - https://www.counterterrorismgroup.com/post/the-role-of-social-media-in-advancing-violent-incel-extremism
Applying Differential Association Theory to Online Hate Groups: A Theoretical Statement (2012) - https://www.researchgate.net/publication/248392261_Applying_Differential_Association_Theory_to_Online_Hate_Groups_A_Theoretical_Statement
Social Networks Struggle to Crack Down on ‘Incel’ Movement (2021) - https://www.theguardian.com/media/2021/aug/16/social-networks-struggle-to-crack-down-on-incel-movement
Misogynist Incels and Male Supremacism: Overview and Recommendations for Addressing the Threat of Male Supremacist Violence (2021) - https://www.newamerica.org/political-reform/reports/misogynist-incels-and-male-supremacism/red-pill-to-black-pill/ 
The Impact of Digital Communications Technology on Radicalisation and Recruitment (2017) - https://academic.oup.com/ia/article-abstract/93/5/1233/4098292?redirectedFrom=fulltext
Internet Banging: New Trends in Social Media, Gang Violence, Masculinity and Hip Hop (2013) - https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0747563212003779
What Role Has Social Media Played In Violence Perpetrated by Incels? (2019) - https://digitalcommons.chapman.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1000&context=peace_studies_student_work
Not All Dead White Men: Classics and Misogyny in the Digital Age (2018)
The Red-Handed Red Pill: The Role of Social Media in Incel Violence Reviewed by Anna Coopey on Monday, July 18, 2022 Rating: 5
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