Criminal Justice research team working to better understand the Incel Community

December 14, 2022 - JJ Thomas

A team of researchers from the MSU School of Criminal Justice are working to better understand the Incel Community in their own words. The term “Incel” stands for an “Involuntary Celibate” and the Incel Community exists almost entirely online, made up of individuals (mostly identifying as  young men) who struggle to acquire romantic and sexual relationships. 

Researchers say that members of the Incel Community typically blame women for their disenfranchisement, which has led some incels to engage in acts of violence towards women in physical spaces in retaliation for the supposed harms they have caused men.

Brenna Helm, one of the research project’s lead investors says that “while misogyny, racism, and acts of extremist violence are not justifiable, the struggles and frustrations that incels experience are very-much real.” 

Brenna Helm also notes that while there have been instances of Incels becoming radicalized and engaging in acts of violence that “there are individuals in these communities who are hurting and who are open to alternative avenues for managing their frustrations that do not include misogyny or harm to themselves or others.”

Studying incels has long been a difficult task for researchers. This is in part due to skepticism of academics by members of the Incel Community. Many incels believe that academics and researchers are interested in villainizing them rather than understanding them.

Brenna Helm, Dr. Ryan Scrivens, Dr. Tom Holt, and Dr. Steve Chermak worked with Dr. Richard Frank at Simon Fraser University who developed a custom-written web-crawler that “scraped data” from the former r/incels subreddit. The web-crawler developed enabled the research team to search for keywords, analyze their meaning and categorize the comments written by users to understand the content within this community.

To date, this web crawler has scraped over 1 million comments written by over 45,000 authors between January 2014 and November 2017.

Researchers hope that this research will serve as a stepping stone to better understand incels and to find effective mechanisms for intervening in the radicalization process. They also hope that the information gathered will be helpful in developing intervention methods and resources for incels who are seeking support.