As someone who has frequented Reddit, the popular link aggregator and “front page of the internet” for nearly a decade, I’ve been saddened to see the website overrun in recent years by some of the most toxic people online. While redditors have the option to subscribe to and block certain subreddits (which allows readers to avoid some of the more upsetting content), the influx of men’s rights activists (MRAs), alt-righters, and straight-up Nazis over the past few years has turned what was once a center-left technology and internet culture forum into a battleground between those who want the site to keep its old identity versus the newcomers who seek to convert it into a forum of hate.
Reddit has taken action against some of the more hateful subreddits, such as recently banning r/Nazi (the pro-Nazi subreddit), while other hate subreddits remained in place. One of the worst of these was r/incel, which was finally banned just this month.
R/incel was a subreddit for “incels” or those who are involuntarily celibate. These are people who supposedly want to be in a relationship with women (the subreddit was largely for straight men) but who are unable to do so for whatever reason. But rather than blaming themselves for their inability to find companionship and meaningful relationships, incels blame women for being “shallow” and attracted to unworthy men who themselves are superficial. Anyone who visited the subreddit would find that women were often lambasted as whores, sluts, and other degrading terms such as “roasties,” a term meant to compare female genitalia to roast beef.
Obviously, these views are pathetic and disgusting. And while some redditors tried to convince incels that the way to find a relationship was through self-improvement, increased social activities, and other common-sense behaviors exhibited by billions of human beings around the world, incels ignored all that and continued their deranged self-pity and hatred towards women. And when they weren’t going after women who rejected them, incels turned their attention to successful men, who they often labeled as “Chads” or “normies,” terms which go back to 4chan and boards like /pol/ and /r9k/.
For a while, the subreddit was just a disgusting avenue for “scorned” men to rail about their lives and the “discrimination” they faced from women. But like many extremist communities, their mutual hatred of their supposed oppressors only got more and more violent as time went on and they bounced their deranged beliefs off each other.
Eventually, incels started promoting the justification of rape, as women denying them sex and meaningful relationships were a violation of their (the incels) human rights. That absolutely insane logic morphed from just talking about why rape would be justified to practical suggestions for how to rape women, as well as how to successfully get away with rape.
For a website that typically devotes most of its time to cat pics, the latest in PC gaming, and low-effort memes, this was a big deviation from the norm, and redditors started to demand that r/incels be shut down. And while Reddit admins had a tough time justifying such a shutdown (Reddit takes freedom of speech very seriously), that all changed when the incels started making public calls for rape. And so, Reddit banned r/incels, as well as several other subreddits started up by incels who still wished to congregate after the main ban.
The saddest (and scariest) part of all is that many of the incels have learned nothing from this controversy. Rather than recognizing that calling for sexual violence against women is completely unacceptable, incels largely feel that they are the victims, as their only forum to discuss their beliefs has been unjustly silenced. I shudder to think what many of these people will advocate for now that they have been pushed further underground and away from the public eye, and I worry for the inevitable future victims of online male toxicity.