Let us not create a moral panic over incels

By William Hallowell | Editor

Since Thursday’s mass shooting committed by a self-proclaimed “incel”, the mainstream media seems to be perpetuating a moral panic over the misogynistic subculture. 


The Plymouth shooting last Thursday was horrific. It is the biggest mass killing for a decade, and among the victims was a three year old girl and the gunman’s own mother. 


Since the news broke the story has dominated mainstream domestic news. People are saying the twenty-two-year-old was an extremist, a terrorist and a misogynist; he is certainly the latter. But is it not hyperbolic to label Jake Davison an “extremist”? 


Many media outlets, and their television guests, have been quick to label him a “terrorist”, despite the police not treating the incident as terror-related. Whilst it is, undeniably, a shocking incident - and there is absolutely no defence for this twisted and sick individual - it is fair to say that a moral panic has been created by the media over the last few days, and it will most likely continue to grow – the Independent reports that a government advisor said violent attacks by incels will be treated as terrorism if the movement grows.


But is the incel movement a moral panic, or have we simply taken one high-profile incident and blown it up because there is no other major news - domestically - at the moment? 


Whilst incels are a cause for concern, and whilst the Leader of the Opposition, Sir Keir Starmer, rightly calls for the Government to speed up its Online Safety Bill, I would argue that we are creating a moral panic. 


For those that don’t know, “incel” is an abbreviation of the term “involuntarily celibate”. It is a term used to describe, sometimes used - as the Plymouth shooter did - to self-describe oneself. Incels are misogynists who, because of a lack of sex and interaction with women, hate women and blame them for being deprived of their perceived birth-right of sex, as one BBC News guest - who I cannot remember the name of - put it. 


These self-victimising, sexist individuals are apparently growing in numbers through a number of online forums, where they can remain anonymous, allowing them to share their feelings with other liked-minded, sad men, who feel a hatred towards women due to a lack of intimacy and sexual interaction with the opposite sex. But I reiterate: aren’t we just creating a moral panic as a result of a high-profile violent incident? 


I am not an incel, so I cannot speak on behalf of one, but to suggest that there is some sort secret organised network of incels plotting attacks together like the one in Plymouth seems rather hyperbolic and far-fetched. And, whilst it is a dangerous subculture that must be dealt with appropriately, to suggest incels as a group could all be suspected perpetrators of terror attacks is not just exaggerative, but is a total generalisation. 


Should we, or more precisely, the Government, shut our borders to all Muslim immigration to the UK, just because the Taliban are gaining ground in Afghanistan? Is this very threatening issue not more worthy of a media-instigated moral panic than lonely boys neglected of female intimacy? Isn’t the media’s reaction to the “massacre” in Plymouth, as the Mirror described it, seemingly irrational?


One often hears complaints of “the mainstream media this” and the “mainstream media that”… as if the public is being led like sheep by a collusion of political and press power, and I do not subscribe to this idea that could almost be labelled a conspiracy. But in this case, the mainstream media has - in a matter of days - already created folk devils out of the embarrassingly cringeworthy incel subculture, and subsequently an unjustified and hyperbolic moral panic. By no means should we underestimate this misogynistic movement, but let’s certainly not overestimate it. 


Feature image: A printscreen taken from a video on Jake Davison's YouTube channel, which has since been shut down. 

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