Home Male Psychology Incel Online Activity Requires Careful Forensic Evaluation, According to New Study

Incel Online Activity Requires Careful Forensic Evaluation, According to New Study

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Involuntary celibates, commonly referred to as “incels“, have garnered significant attention in recent years due to their association with online misogyny and real-world violence. A new study published in Behavioural Sciences & the Law delves into the forensic evaluation of incel online activity, providing crucial insights into this subculture and its implications for mental health professionals and legal systems.

The term incel is a portmanteau of “involuntary celibate”, originally coined in 1997 by a Canadian woman who wanted to create an inclusive community for those struggling with romantic relationships. However, the modern incel community predominantly consists of heterosexual men who believe that societal forces and their physical appearance hinder their romantic success. This community, which initially found a home on Reddit, has since moved to more extreme forums such as 4chan, 8chan, Telegram, and Discord following its ban from Reddit in 2017 .

Misogyny is a cornerstone of incel ideology, manifesting in a belief system that dehumanises women and sees them as mere objects of desire. Incels adhere to the concept of a sexual marketplace where they believe the most attractive men (referred to as “Chads”) dominate in securing relationships, leaving the less attractive men marginalised. This toxic worldview has led to more than 50 reported incidents of violence globally, including mass shootings in the United States and England, as well as the infamous 2018 Toronto van attack .

Forensic evaluators are increasingly tasked with assessing the online activity of incels to determine potential risks and past mental states. The study emphasises the importance of understanding the unique language and beliefs of the incel community. Terms like “red pill” and “black pill” are crucial in understanding their mindset—the former refers to awakening to harsh realities of society, while the latter signifies a nihilistic belief that their situation is hopeless and unchangeable .

Social media and internet data have become invaluable tools in forensic mental health evaluations. The American Association for Psychiatry and the Law (AAPL) now includes internet collateral as part of their practice parameters, acknowledging that online activities can provide significant insights into an individual’s behaviour and risk factors. However, there are challenges in authenticating and interpreting this digital data, which can be manipulated easily .

Researching the incel community presents unique challenges due to its predominantly online presence. Traditional sampling methods are inadequate, and the rapid evolution of online forums adds another layer of complexity. Additionally, much of what is known about incels comes from self-reports, which may not always be reliable. Studies have shown high rates of mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and autism spectrum disorder among self-identified incels, but these findings are often based on non-validated psychological assessments .

Identifying incel beliefs and understanding their attitudes towards women and society are crucial steps in forensic evaluations. This includes recognising their use of specific terminology and their history of romantic and sexual relationships. Evaluators must also consider relevant diagnoses, such as depression, social anxiety, and personality disorders, which are common among incels .

Structured professional judgment tools like the HCR-20v3 and the Terrorist Radicalization Assessment Protocol (TRAP-18) can aid in assessing the risk of violence. However, these tools must be used with caution, as they are not specifically validated for evaluating online activity and incel ideology .

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