Following the heartbreaking news of the Plymouth shooting last week, which saw five people die at the hands of a 22 year-old man, the word “incel” has been circulating in the media.

But what exactly is an incel? The term technically means “involuntarily celibate” but over the years incel-dom has evolved into a movement of misogyny and dangerous hatred towards women.

What is an incel?

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word incel as “a person (usually a man) who regards himself or herself as being involuntarily celibate and typically expresses extreme resentment and hostility towards those who are sexually active.”

Essentially, incels are members of misogynistic online groups and forums who blame women for their own sexual failings.

Incels are most notably recognised for their use of Reddit forums, and the platform has spent much of the last two years enforcing policies to try to tackle this content.

Florence Keen, who researches incels at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at Kings College London, told the BBC that one of the biggest incel forums has 13,000 active members and around 200,000 threads.

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Incels in the news

Back in 2014, 22 year-old Elliott Roger killed six people in a stabbing and shooting spree in Isla Vista, California.

Before turning the gun on himself, Elliott emailed a 141 document to almost two dozen people. It detailed his deep-rooted hatred of women, which was fuelled by frustration over his virginity.

Last week, 22 year-old Jake Davison killed five people, including his mother and a three-year-old girl, in Plymouth. It was the worst mass shooting in Britain in more than a decade.

After the attack, it was revealed that Jake was part of the online incel movement and had told a US teenager on a subreddit forum that he was “bitter and jealous” and that women “treat men with zero respect or even view them as human beings.”

Imran Ahmed, chief executive of the Centre for Countering Digital Hate, said:

“It is up to government to protect society from the threat posed by twisted, violent male supremacists who even today are whispering words of encouragement to groom the next terrorist attacker on platforms we all use.”

Where did the word incel come from?

While the word “incel” is widely regarded as a term to describe men, the term was actually coined by a Canadian woman named Alana in the late 1990s.

Alana posted in a local Usenet group encouraging people who have had “life-long difficulty starting dating or forming relationships” to join her web page, which was titled: “Alana’s Involuntary Celibacy Project.”

However, Alana now has no interest trying to rescue the word she created, as it is now so strongly associated with “a hateful men’s movement,” which is a far cry from her intentions back in 1997.

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