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Tracking the spread of Incel ideology online

15 March 2022

3 minutes to read

Tracking the spread of Incel ideology online

A major new study is tracking the spread of Incel ideology online, to help academics and practitioners better understand the spread of extremist ideologies and aid the development of intervention measures.

The Incel (short for “involuntary celibate”) ideology is a misogynistic worldview whose proponents blame women for their lack of sexual activity, and which has been linked to several incidences of terrorism over the last decade.

Experts will create a comprehensive map of the online “Incelosphere”, a loose conglomerate of digital platforms hosting Incel-related content, in an attempt to show how the ideology spreads across different digital platforms, such as Reddit, 4chan, YouTube, as well as dedicated forums.

By doing so, the researchers hope to identify the dynamics through which the most extreme ideas gain or lose traction within the Incel subculture. They will also analyse the geographical spread of the Incel movement, to evaluate its prominence in the UK and Ireland.

To do this, they will develop bespoke computer-assisted software to analyse language used on the online forum. This will yield a ‘birds eye view’ of the worldview and narratives seen in the Incelosphere, instead of just those contained on specific platforms.

The study will be led by Dr Lewys Brace, from the University of Exeter, as part of a research team which includes Dr Debbie Ging from Dublin City University and Dr Stephane Baele from the University of Exeter.

Dr Brace said: “We will map the Incelosphere across multiple online platforms, analysing the content of discussions taking place there to understand how the movement has evolved.

“This is a timely piece of work, as the Incelosphere has been exhibiting increasingly extremist and violent rhetoric. Platforms such as Reddit and web providers have shut down online communities for violating its hate speech terms and conditions.

“Despite these efforts, however, the Incel movement has diversified and spread across different digital platforms, and is now no longer hosted solely on niche platforms such as sub-Reddits and 4chan boards, but has also contaminated mainstream digital platforms such as YouTube. This is happening at a time when incidents of Incel-related violence are increasing in frequency.”

The project is one of 11 recently-commissioned by the Centre for Research and Evidence on Security Threats (CREST) which will seek to address security threats facing the UK.


Commissioned by the Economic and Social Research Council, part of UK Research and Innovation, CREST is funded by the UK’s Home Office and security and intelligence agencies to deliver a world-class, interdisciplinary portfolio of activity that maximises the value of behavioural and social science research into security threats. The Centre is led by Lancaster University, with significant input from the universities of Bath, Central Lancashire, Portsmouth, St Andrews and University College London.

The Director of CREST, Professor Stacey Conchie, said: “We have a fantastic set of projects that once again draw on a variety of methods and disciplines that are key to the success of CREST and the growth of our community. The projects promise to drive forward our understanding of topics as diverse as security interventions in public spaces to the prosecution of extremists. I look forward to seeing what the teams produce.”

About Dr Lewys Brace

Lewys Brace is a Lecturer in Data Analysis (Criminology) and part of the University of Exeter’s Q-Step Centre, where he specialises in data science, extremism, terrorism, cybercrime, and Open-Source Intelligence (OSINT). His research currently focuses on online extremist radicalisation and the development of computational research methods for the social sciences. He is a Turing Fellow at the Alan Turing Institute and the lead for the Institute for Data Science and Artificial Intelligence’s Security and Policing theme. He can be found on Twitter with the handle @Lew_Brace.

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