After Bianca Devins’ brutal murder, incels and trolls gleefully circulated photos of her mutilated body across the internet. But within days, the #RIPBianca hashtag and her tagged Instagram photos were transformed into an endless stream of bubblegum pink, fluffy white kittens, candy hearts, and glittery pink clouds.
The dreamy imagery is coming from a vast community of “e-girls,” an online subculture influenced by video games, anime, and grunge that Devins had belonged to.
For these girls and young women, many of whom face harassment and threats on a regular basis, Devin’s brutal murder hit way too close to home.
“Finding out about Bianca was terrifying,” said Ashley Eldridge, a 19-year-old e-girl. “I worry about stuff like that happening all the time. I’m constantly scared that someone is going to recognize me in real life and follow me.”
The e-girl community was almost instantly privy to the incredible violence Devins suffered in the final moments of her life, sometime in the early hours of Sunday morning. Her killer stabbed her to death and then shared pictures of her dead body on social media, including her Discord server. Police suspect her boyfriend, a 22-year-old online influencer Brandon Clark who police say she’d met through Instagram about two months earlier.
“Sorry fuckers,” Clark wrote on Discord after her death. “You’re going to have to find someone else to orbit.”
Members of her Discord server, which is a social media platform for the gaming community, notified the Utica Police Department.
The narrative that quickly formed was that Devins had been murdered by one of the many obsessed men in her online community — called “incels” or “beta orbiters” — who snapped, tracked her down in real life, and killed her. That’s at least partly because many e-girls face near-constant harassment, and a stalker finding them in real life is their greatest fear.
In reality, the relationship between Devins and Clark was more complex. Police said the two were dating, and had attended a concert together in Queens earlier that night. They’d even met each other’s families.
Police said Clark was still uploading pictures of the crime scene to an Instagram story when they arrived at the scene and held him at gunpoint. He attempted suicide with a knife, was treated for his injuries, and has since been charged with second-degree murder.
Gamergate to TikTok
The label “e-girl” started as a derogatory term among some men in the gaming community who accused girls and young women of using their sexuality to draw more viewers to their Twitch or YouTube profiles. Broadcasting video games there can sometimes be a source of income.
The term is linked to the 2014 Gamergate controversy, when a massive harassment campaign targeted female video game industry professionals with rape and death threats. The campaign drew attention to simmering toxic masculinity in the online gaming community, and has been described as a precursor to the fomentation of incel or modern men’s-rights movements, which are defined by their deep resentment of women.
“It was like calling a girl a bitch or a ho,” said Mel, a 17-year-old e-girl, who asked that her full name be withheld for safety reasons. “Now there’s a newer generation: It’s a word to call a pretty, alternative girl.”
Now that the “e-girl” label has been reclaimed by teens and young women, it’s more broadly associated with a hyper-feminine, cosplaying cartoon-like style that became famous through TikTok. There are e-girls who game, e-girls who hang out on the imageboard site 4chan, e-girls who Instagram, and e-girls with their own Discord community.
Eldridge, who has 115,000 followers on TikTok and nearly 10,000 on Instagram, said these days, e-girl is more of an aesthetic. “It’s a girl who posts stuff on the internet and looks alternative and edgy in their own way,” said Eldridge. “I like to think of it as the 2019 version of a scene girl on the internet.”
As Rusty Fawkes, a 22-year-old e-girl put it: “e-girl is just a term for a girl on the internet.”
But the notion that e-girls are grifters out to exploit lovelorn men persists, even if young girls and women have reappropriated the term.
When Belle Delphine, an e-girl and cosplayer in the United Kingdom made waves for selling her bathwater to her Instagram fans for $30 per container, death threats followed.
One person wrote on Reddit: FUCK I CANNOT FUCKING STAND EGIRLS! Egirls are fucking whores who need to fucking die the most painful and brutal death that can be afforded to end their miserable excuse of an existence. I am so fucking tired of fucking egirls thirst trapping incels into buying them shit. Like, seriously, fucking BATHWATER for sale? Fucking disgusting and I look down upon any "man" who would pay money for such bullshit. I will fucking slit the throat of every fucking short haired, goth looking, beta-attracting egirl I can. Sorry fuckers, you're gonna have to find somebody else to orbit
Fawkes has made a career out of being a full-time e-girl. She has over 225,000 followers on TikTok where she both embraces and makes fun of e-girl culture. In one recent video, Fawkes was painted entirely blue, wearing a preppy tennis outfit, glasses, and a blue wig in pigtails, complete with a green beanie. She’s also holding a Nintendo controller. A caption at the bottom of the video reads “I don’t even know how to play.” She shrugs, and another caption says she doesn’t know how to turn on the controller.
“I got into e-girl culture when I was 19,” said Fawkes. “I’ve always been really into Japan, and I’ve been playing video games since I was about 5 years old. I started cosplaying at 16, and kept it going from there. It’s a job.”
She has more than 60,000 followers on Instagram, who are invited to donate to her Patreon account if they want exclusive access to photoshoot selects, or if they want to talk one-on-one with her. She also makes extra cash through livestreaming her gaming sessions to her more than 4,000 Twitch followers.
But no matter the platform, harassment and threats are part of the package.
“It can be quite hostile,” said Fawkes. “I think when you bring something that’s potentially sexual in any way, you kind of open yourself up to this new form of hate that wasn’t there previously. People have issues with it, especially when you bring it into places where it’s not supposed to be.”
Fawkes says for the most part, she tries to ignore the harassment. “I’ve gotten things in the past, like people saying they wish I was dead. The only thing I’ve had that was scary when someone emailed me saying they’d found out my phone number and were gonna come and find where I live,” Fawkes said. “Most of the time, these things are just empty threats.”
Signing onto the community isn’t a decision that should be made lightly — because in Fawkes’ eyes, it’s irreversible. “Once you put yourself out on the internet like this, that’s it,” she said. “You’re out there forever.”
Going pro as an e-girl can be lucrative, but the possibility of earning money isn’t the only incentive. For some, the e-girl community is an opportunity for social reinvention — and a gathering place for misfits and misanthropes.
Mel said she found community online when she struggled to make friends in school. “There are people I met when I was 13 who I still talk to every day, and who I consider myself super close to — closer than anyone I know in real life.”
She’s mostly focused on growing her Instagram presence and is on Discord, but occasionally dips into certain forums on the imageboard site 4chan, which Devins also frequented.
“Sometimes I’ll go on 4chan just to look and see what people are posting. To see what else is going on,” said Mel. “I don’t really get posted on there. But for other girls, the harassment is the worst on 4chan. There are whole threads dedicated to them, posting pictures, personal information, friends’ information. It’s horrible.”
But Mel says she still experiences a lot of harassment on Instagram. “I get tons of DMs saying creepy stuff, from adult men, even teachers, asking me weird, uncomfortable things, saying they’re going to find me.”
Mel was in the same Instagram community as Bianca Devins. When the news of her death began percolating through social media, she couldn’t help but feel like it could have been her.
“You never know who could do something like this,” said Mel. “I’m terrified some crazy man or incel is gonna find me and hurt me.”
The 17-year-old said she doesn’t tell her parents about the harassment or her fear, because she doesn’t want them to be scared, or try to convince her not to be an e-girl. For her, the good parts about being an e-girl still outweigh the bad.
“It’s an outlet for me, where I can talk about problems, mental health issues, and make new friends around the world. I don’t want it to be taken away from me.”
Cover: A photo of Bianca Devins from her Instagram account.