Media coverage tends to engage in a form of “deviance amplification” wherein they paint the incel movement as something apart and sinister from larger society. Media outlets like the BBC, CNN, and many major publications like The New York Times have aired or written numerous pieces about misogynist incels without tying it back to male supremacist ideology. Countering these narratives requires journalists to cover misogynist incel ideology through the framework of male supremacism and surmount the instinct to sympathize with these men and privilege their self-perception as victims. As Tomkinson et al (2020) write, comments “which publicly affirm a feeling of ‘victimhood’ or persecution among men, not only undermine any political action on gendered violence, they actually encourage those who feel ‘persecuted’ towards violence.”
- Distinguish incel identity from misogynist incel ideology and violence. Women, men, and non-binary people can identify as incels while holding worldviews that are not rooted in deep misogyny. Separately, there is a misogynist incel men’s movement, shaped around dehumanization of women and glorification of violence. Distinguish this in your reporting and clarify, when reporting on a given forum, whether it is a general incel community or a misogynist incel forum (and note if the forum excludes women).
- Recognize male supremacism as a threat in its own right, not only as a conduit to other harmful ideologies. Cross-pollination occurs between male supremacism and white supremacism, but misogyny is not simply a “gateway” to white supremacism and other aspects of the far-right. Since 2016, male supremacism has been labeled a ”gateway” to white supremacism by media outlets such as Vox and The Atlantic and a report by the Anti-Defamation League.
- Be careful not to conflate incels as representative of all misogyny and/or male supremacists. We have seen a worrying trend where any misogynistic attack is labeled as “incel” whether or not the perpetrator was connected to these communities or ideology. Treating misogyny as unique to incel groups obfuscates the real and violent nature of heteropartriarchy and misogyny in the lives of women. Incels should be treated as one part of the larger male supremacist movement.
- Avoid creating content that allows misogynist incels to shape their own narratives, particularly in the use of interviews. Be aware that misogynist incels will purposely manipulate sympathetic journalists and present themselves as victims. By taking a stance of strategic silence (not covering them at all) or not letting them frame their own narrative, journalists can mitigate the channels available for male supremacists to recruit and gain legitimacy.
- Incorporate “No Notoriety” protocols when reporting on mass violence. Many perpetrators of mass violence seek notoriety, and past reporting on misogynist incel violence has fed into this by spotlighting their names, photos, and manifestos.
- Speak to experts to understand the content of these communities. Like other online subcultures, misogynist incel forums contain a significant amount of content meant to “troll” or entrap curious onlookers—and then accuse reporters of cherry-picking content. Being skeptical of content within their forums is crucial, and learning to parse out what is genuine and what is not is a critical step in understanding their communities.