Could These Subreddits Save Incels?

The first academic research into r/IncelExit and r/ExRedPill says they could actually de-radicalise men and boys, and help lead them out of the manosphere.
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A new report says the subreddits r/IncelExit and r/ExRedPill, and other similar forums, may be used to help de-radicalise men drawn to incel ideology.

With 14,200 and 19,700 subscribers respectively, these subreddits are populated by many individuals who are searching for a pathway out of what is known as “the manosphere” – a collection of online spaces known for misogyny and opposition to feminism.


The authors The (de-)radical(-ising) potential of r/IncelExit and r/ExRedPill said these online spaces in particular hold potential benefits to educate men and boys about consent and respectful relationships.

Joshua Thorburn, report author and researcher at Australia’s Monash Gender and Family Violence Prevention Centre, told VICE World News that the forums aren’t a silver bullet, but that "some individuals do appear to succeed in going from a very misogynistic outlook to a progressive or feminist worldview. Some former incels and red pillers appear to have become unexpected allies in the feminist movement. But deradicalisation is not a simple, linear or guaranteed process for the individuals who participate in this forum.”

He added: "The fact that many men are turning away from the most viciously misogynistic beliefs of the manosphere is a very positive change. We must encourage and recognise that other men and boys participating in manosphere forums have the agency and capacity to renounce their misogynistic views.”

"By countering manosphere and incel ideology before it is fully embraced, these forums could help many men and boys to avoid becoming radicalised.”

In Thorburn’s findings, it is clear that there are some unifying factors amongst several users that led them towards harmful ideologies online, including challenges with their self-esteem, body image and mental health. Some users in r/ExRedPill specifically posted about their abuse of women, blaming their radicalisation to red pill ideas as leading to their perpetration of abuse.


But the findings also reveal how the users were eventually led to these deradicalisation subreddits. Thorburn said “posts often demonstrated that individuals were coming to r/IncelExit and r/ExRedPill again at a period of intense personal difficulty. They often became attracted to the manosphere ideas because of their own personal challenges, but following such ideas had only exacerbated these issues, to the point where they felt like they had to make a change in their lives.”

Signs of hope do appear regularly in the forum. Three days ago, a user posted about “probably the first good day in two months”, went dancing and found himself happy talking to strangers. “This is a very positive step!” one of the commenters replied. Other users have posted recently about successful dates or getting back into hobbies like music. 

Some seem to be finding it harder to change their mindsets. Recently another user posted, “is there any mind tricks i can use to stop assuming Chads run the world?”, referring to a common piece of incel lexicon describing popular men who are often depicted as muscular and strong-jawed, and presumed to sleep with lots of women.

He thanked the subreddit for their help so far, but ended his post with: “i cant get around it. i just start getting angry and my coping mechanism is gone.i want to get therapy, but i cant seem weak to my parents.”


Thorburn said that these spaces aren’t wholly good; while many users in these subreddits disavow the manosphere, “the underlying sense of entitlement to sex with women does not necessarily dissipate,” and some use the space for bad-faith discussions rather than sincere challenging of incel ideology. Thorburn witnessed regression in progress as well as success, demonstrating that deradicalisation is not necessarily a linear process. 

But the report details evidence of adolescent boys actively soliciting advice from subreddits searching for alternative viewpoints, such as a college student who asked r/IncelExit how to move past his feelings of hurt from a crush rejecting him. It also shows examples of men speaking on the forums about their regret over following manosphere influencers, which led them to emotionally abuse or cheat on partners. 

Thorburn recommended against outside intervention or action in these communities, and that their use is in their grassroots make-up. “The real power in these forums is that former incels and red pillers are often the ones who are giving advice. They know what it's like to be transfixed, confused and ultimately very hurt by these ideas. For that reason, they are so much more trustworthy and identifiable for those looking to leave the manosphere than virtually anyone else.”

Tim Squirrell, of the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), a counter-extremism thinktank, said that the approach of former extremists mentoring others to exit dangerous ideologies is “well tested” but that it requires “a huge amount of investment of time, resources and patience. There are people doing this work unpaid, all the time, and the difficulty for scaling up this approach to deradicalisation is that it’s so difficult to get funding for because it’s time intensive and can’t be automated. It requires a human connection to work.”

He added that r/IncelExit in particular is notable for the fact it’s still standing, and hasn’t been banned such as other adjacent subreddits, such as r/IncelsWithoutHate. “It appears to have got it right,” he said in reference to their moderating. “While incel spaces often function as the world’s worst support group – a lot of people sitting around telling you that it’s not just as bad as you think, it’s worse, and it will never get better – an actual support group for people suffering from issues associated with self-esteem, masculinity, and sexual and romantic non-fulfilment is a vital resource.” 

Thorburn told VICE World News more comprehensive research into the subreddits will be published in the future, alongside other forums online he has researched.