Loophole in online safety laws ‘will let incels spread extremist views’

Extremists will be free to promote their misogynistic and violent incel ideology because of a loophole in the Government’s online safety plans, an investigation has found.

Dozens of “toxic” websites where advocates of incel (involuntary celibate) culture celebrate murderous attacks – such as those by Jake Davison, the Plymouth killer – will escape scrutiny because of “lighter touch” regulation proposed for small sites, according to the research by anti-extremist campaigners.

Unlike larger platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, smaller sites with tens of thousands of visitors rather than millions will be largely “out of scope”, which means there will be no legal requirement to protect adults from harmful material.

The sites will be liable for “illegal” criminal content such as promoting terrorist acts but, unlike large platforms, they will not have to proactively remove it under the new legislation. 

The research warned that some smaller platforms still have significant numbers of users who are highly motivated and often use mainstream sites to groom and lure people to explore their sites, which feature more extreme content.

Smaller platforms are also used to organise groups such as incels and white supremacists, who post mild versions of their content on larger platforms such as Facebook and lure people into their more extreme views elsewhere.

Incels blamed women for Plymouth shooting

The research by Labour, the Centre for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) and the Anti-Semitism Policy Trust said that the UK incel community primarily converged around three smaller sites.

They saw a six-fold increase in web traffic from the UK about the time of the Plymouth shooting when Davison, an adherent of the misogynistic culture, killed five people.

Comments on the sites blamed the mass shooting on women refusing to sleep with Davison, while posts praising him featured racist and neo-Nazi imagery.

One post said: “Women need to take accountability for leaving so many men sexless. It can lead to frustration and mass shootings.”

Minds, an alternative social media app, has become a hotbed of anti-Semitism and neo-Nazi imagery. Posts use offensive slurs to blame Jewish people for the war in Ukraine, and peddle conspiracy theories about Jewish control of the media.

According to the research, a list of websites, which the CCDH called the “Toxic 10”, that spread climate disinformation earned $3.6 million (£2.8 million) in advertising revenue from Google in the past six months.

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