By Vicky Witts | Head of Comment
Davidson’s online presence has frequently been referenced in news reports, giving more of an insight into his mental state going into the attack – His YouTube videos, in particular, detailed how he felt as if he had to “accomplish his mission” and that he was “the Terminator”.
Many people as well as media outlets have linked Davidson’s actions and videos to the term ‘Incel’ (short for ‘involuntarily celibate’); an online subculture movement that has been growing in popularity over the past 30 years and has been linked to a number of other criminal activities.
Similar cases of offenders posting videos to social media platforms have occurred on numerous occasions, such as Elliot Rodger, (son of British filmmaker Peter Rodger). On May 23rd, 2014, Roger killed six people, recording a series of videos prior to the tragedy which documented his hatred for women and his involvement within the so-called ‘Incel community’.
Whilst not everyone associated with the online community has gone to the extremes shown by Rodger and Davidson, it is evident that there are growing concerns about the Incel group, and discussions are ongoing about whether they should be linked to terrorism. According to Florence Keen at the Kings College International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, some of the biggest forums in the community have as many as 13,000 members.
This, therefore, brings into question if there is anything to be done about how social media sites monitor extremely misogynistic or potentially dangerous videos created by those associated with Incel views.
What is currently being done?
As the Incel movement grows on websites (including, YouTube, Reddit, Facebook, and 4chan), there have been some steps taken to try and prevent future tragedies influenced by the misogynistic beliefs and culture of the group in the UK and other countries.
YouTube, for example, has removed all the content created by the likes of Rodger and Davidson, assuring users that the company has “strict policies to ensure [their] platform is not used to incite violence on YouTube.”
However, it should be also noted that this was not done until after their crimes were committed, perhaps posing questions about if there was anything that the platform could have done prior to the tragedies to reduce the risk of other people being influenced by the hateful videos.
In terms of Government response, the Minister for Digital and Culture, Caroline Dinenage suggested that they “have sponsored the Law Commission review on harmful online communications, looking at whether the law needs to be tightened around [the] issue.”
Problems with controlling the group
Despite it being clear that much of the online content produced around the views of the Incel movement is extremely hateful and problematic, an attempt to completely remove all forums that align with the culture would invite arguments regarding freedom of speech.
Complete abolition of all Incel forums while the group is not explicitly considered to be terrorist may be argued to be unjustly silencing active members that are not involved with criminal activity, but merely participate on a conversational level.
Furthermore, social media platforms often have very specific rules regarding the regulation of users’ content.
Facebook’s definition of hate speech, as detailed in their community standards, refers to “a direct attack against people […] on the basis of […] protected characteristics”. It then goes on to detail that these characteristics include factors like “sex” and “gender identity”), some of the main target topics of the Incel movements.
However, Facebook’s community standards do go on to detail that “attack[s]” against other users includes acts such as “violent or dehumanizing speech, harmful stereotypes, statements of inferiority, expressions of contempt, disgust or dismissal, cursing and calls for exclusion or segregation”, which it may be argued are too specific and hyper-focused, as content may be overlooked if it is not explicitly “violent” or “harmful”.
Should Incel groups be labelled as terrorists?
Despite many crimes being traced back to its members and the incel community’s intention to enforce its own far-right, extremely hateful ideology, at present the UK Government has not declared the Incel movement or culture as a terrorist group,
The Terrorism Act 2000 specifically defines terrorism in the UK as a threat or act of violence which is intended to do one of the following: influence the government, intimidate the public, or advance a “political”, “religious”, “racial”, or “ideological cause”.
Evidently, the actions of individuals such as Rodger and Davidson which are believed to have been committed to encourage the hateful beliefs held by the group do fit many of these criteria for terrorism, and yet the Government are still reluctant to label the group as such.
Johnathan Hall QC, the UK Terrorism Laws Watchdog, explained this in his most recent report on Incel culture by acknowledging that not all acts of violence committed with Incel motivations can be considered terrorism, and that the current UK terrorism laws do enough to prosecute Incel-inspired crimes at present.
Regardless of what the Government’s decision on the classification of the Incel movement is in future, it is clear that the misogynistic and extremely toxic beliefs shared on incel forums and social media platforms which act for this cause need to be changed because there is no room for such a hateful culture in our modern society.Victoria Witts Comment