Tessa Dufore | The Poly Post

How the ‘incel’ pipeline radicalizes young men

By Tessa Dufore, Nov. 8, 2022

YouTube videos once convinced a friend of mine of several conspiracy theories, with the most colorful theory being that the moon was hollow, made of aluminum and placed in the Earth’s orbit by aliens.

Some may think this friend is more susceptible to conspiratorial thinking; however, a scarier thought is that this person is as susceptible as you or someone you know.

Partly to blame for the radicalization of young men is the mysterious and ever-changing YouTube algorithm, which is at the very least designed to keep users on the site and viewing its ads for as much time as possible. This means that, sometimes, the next related video might contain some fringe opinions. The video after that might be even more extreme.

After all, divisive and edgy content can be the most engaging and most likely to keep users entertained. Going down that rabbit hole, a user might view radical and conspiratorial content despite their first video being innocent, which introduces extreme views to wider audiences.

According to Guillaume Chaslot, Ph. D, in the video “Why Does YouTube Recommend Conspiracy Theories? Mozilla Explains,” the good news is someone can be less effectively manipulated simply by knowing YouTube wants to manipulate. The bad news is that YouTube is not the only online source for radicalization.

On Oct. 11, a self-described “incel,” or involuntary celibate, pleaded guilty to plotting a mass shooting targeting 3,000 women in an Ohio university after federal agents arrested him in July of last year.

Sharon Wu | The Poly Post

Federal agents found firearms, ammunition and body armor in his possession. The internet – specifically, incel forums – instigated the young man’s radicalization. These forums turn some young men’s feelings of desperation, rejection and isolation outward, often conspiratorially blaming women and people of color.

Although this plot was caught early, instances of gender-based shootings are becoming increasingly common. There have been dozens of attacks in the last decade connected to the online incel ideology. This would-be shooter was influenced by another incel in 2014 who killed six people in Isla Vista.

The National Threat Assessment Center, part of the Department of Homeland Security, released a case study describing incels, predominately men, who feel entitled to sex and will find justification for any number of atrocities to achieve that entitlement, as a misogynistic extremist group.

“Inceldom” is a symptom of a couple larger issues, one being patriarchy. The 107,000-word manifesto of the Isla Vista murderer, which inspired the Ohio plotter, illuminated many of the core beliefs of the manosphere but also many of its contradictions.

For example, Amia Srinivasan, in her journal article “Does Anyone Have the Right to Sex?,” wrote: “His (the Isla Vista murderer’s) manifesto reveals that it was overwhelmingly boys, not girls, who bullied him: who pushed him into lockers, called him a loser, made fun of him for his virginity. But it was the girls who deprived him of sex, and the girls, therefore, who had to be destroyed.”

One tactic for such a successfully oppressive paradigm like patriarchy is to blame all the problems created by that system of domination on the solution: feminism. Srinivasan also wrote, “feminism … may well be the primary force resisting the very system (patriarchy) that made him feel … inadequate.”

Patriarchy is also good at placing blame outward instead of inward. Women are bad drivers, but young men must pay more for car insurance. Women are emotional, but it is overwhelmingly men who punch holes in the drywall. Indeed, nearly all mass shooters in the US have been men, and the reasons they kill are emotional ones.

The other issue that gender-based violence exemplifies is a crisis in masculinity.

The American Psychological Association’s first 2018 “Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Boys and Men” says “conforming to traditional masculinity ideology has been shown to limit males’ psychological development, constrain their behavior, result in gender role strain and gender role conflict, and negatively influence mental health and physical health.” The guidelines also highlight that men are more likely to commit and be a victim of violent crime.

One thing that many do not consider when it comes to mass shootings, those which are or are not related to inceldom, is that these tragedies are often violent suicides. The threat of a “good guy with a gun” will not deter a suicidal guy with a gun.

Instead, a solution to misogynistic extremism and gun violence would be the existing systems used to prevent suicides: community- and school-based mental health services.

Even though we still cling to them, traditional gender roles are oppressive and destructive for men. Natalie Wynn, in her video-essay titled “Men,” succinctly concludes, “What would actually improve life for most men is a positive ideal of 21st century manhood,” but that, as a woman, “that’s not something I can give to you.”

Short of reinventing masculinity or funding mental health, there are things that all people can do to help. One of the traits that predispose young men toward radicalization is isolation. Far too often, resources and help are available, but men do not utilize them. Too often, men isolate themselves rather than face rejection, again, from the people that matter.

Rather than coldly recommend underfunded services, I urge our Cal Poly Pomona community to check in with the men in our lives and to help each other. Take this as a reminder to offer your time, or simply a text, to someone you have not heard from in a while.

Feature image by Tessa Dufore

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