Even though these men may never meet in person, they can still derive a powerful identity. Men who previously felt disconnected and lost may now feel a sense of belonging and importance.
“These online communities serve a very important function in that respect,” said Michael Kimmel, a sociologist who runs the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities at Stony Brook University. “People encourage you to feel more, and deeper. And then value what you say that’s more and deeper.”
Social media has played a powerful role for genuinely marginalized communities, helping them come together and make themselves heard. The Black Lives Matter and Me Too movements, for instance, pushed their way onto the national agenda in part by using social media. But where those movements seek to dismantle systems of discrimination, the growing online communities of angry white men are fighting against change.
The alt-right, right-wing populism, men’s rights groups and a renewed white supremacist movement have capitalized on many white men’s feeling of loss in recent years. The groups vary in how they diagnose society’s ills and whom they blame, but they provide a sense of meaning and place for their followers.
And as different extremist groups connect online, they draw on one another’s membership bases, tactics and worldviews, allowing membership in one group to become a gateway to other extremist ideologies as well.
Today, for example, posts on Incel.me, an incel forum, debate joining forces with the alt-right and argue that Jews are to blame for incels’ oppression. On one thread, users fantasized that if they were dictators, they would not only create harems and enslave women, but also “gas the Jews.”
By dividing the world into us-versus-them and describing vast injustice at the hands of the supposedly powerful, these groups, experts say, can prime adherents for violence.