Inside The Secret World Of Incels, BBC Three

An “incel”, according to the dictionary definition given via an intertitle in the opening seconds of this depressing and unsettling documentary, is a person who “identifies as being frustrated by a lack of opportunities to have sex”. They see themselves as being involuntarily celibate – hence the abbreviation “incel” – and find expression for their frustration on internet forums. They’re almost always men and (this won’t surprise you either) much of their online activity is deeply misogynistic. Some of it also acts as an incitement to violence – the sort of violence that incel poster boy Elliot Rodger inflicted during a 2014 murder spree that killed six people and which was intended to target young women. Two further murder sprees have been linked to the incel sub-culture and there may yet be more, said Dr Kaitlyn Regehr, a UK-based academic specialising in digital culture.

Regehr was on hand to give context. Rodgers’s widely-shared video justification for what he was about to do provided a dramatic starter, as did news footage from some of those other attacks. Then we were introduced to gentle, dog-loving New Yorker Matt, who thought he was probably on the autism spectrum and who talked openly and intelligently about the issues of isolation and loneliness which afflict many incels. And in Northern Ireland we met James, who had gone as far as composing a rap song with violent misogynist lyrics but who was now trying, one day at a time, to climb out of the incel rabbit hole. At one point, Regehr warned that not enough was being done on a societal level to tackle the mental health problems caused by exposure to the digital world. In Matt and James you saw the human face of the damage done.

The scoop, though, was an all-access, Louis Theroux-style walkabout with Catfishman, an American incel who had taken his vindictiveness into the real world. Catfishman, who masked his face during filming, used a fake picture to set up dates with young women. When they met, he filmed himself verbally abusing them and posted the footage online. By his own estimation, he was a hero to the incel community. That the reasoning he gave in justification for his actions was preposterous and illogical (to which add hypocritical, misogynistic, infantile and cruel) seemed beyond him. When questioned or challenged by director Simon Rawles he just gave a maniacal laugh and ploughed on regardless. It would have been sad if it wasn’t so chilling.