Incel bonding: Stories and storytelling in online misogynist spaces

Co-Published by Michael Headicke and Student Gunner Eastman, based on his Honors Thesis research with First Monday, an open-access internet Journal.

Involuntary celibates, or incels, are part of a misogynistic, extremist subculture that has been linked to acts of mass violence. Unlike other alt-right communities, the incel subculture exists entirely online, and participants rarely, if ever, interact in face-to-face settings. Using an original dataset of 76 discussion threads drawn from two self-identified incel Web sites, this paper investigates how participants on incel discussion boards engage in bonding activities that foster a sense of commitment to the online incel community. We build on sociological understandings of narrative and storytelling to identify and describe three interactive storytelling practices that are facilitated by the affordances of these digital spaces: repetition, co-creation, and elaboration. These practices enable incel participants to share similar experiences, apply elements of the incel ideology to interpret off-line events, and elaborate boundaries between incels and those that they perceive as “normies”. Our study reveals how online bonding activities generate robust collective identities in the incel subculture. It also highlights crucial differences between online and face-to-face storytelling practices in alt-right communities.