March 21, 2023 | VICE News

Incel and extremist content, just a search away on TikTok

In 2021, ISD published a landmark study of hate speech and extremism on TikTok, where we raised the alarm on a wide range of concerning content easily available on the platform, including incel content supporting misogyny and violence. In a new study from corporate accountability group Ekō, researchers found that incel content is also being suggested to young boys on the platform. ISD’s Tim Squirrell and Ciarán O’Connor spoke to VICE News about the little that has changed regarding incel content on TikTok in the last two years, and just how easy it is for users to come across this content.

“What is clear from ongoing monitoring of hateful and extremist ideologies, content and creators on TikTok is that misogyny is still openly posted and promoted by users with apparent little resistance on the platform,” Ciarán told VICE. In a recent study, Ciarán was able to find content praising the Christchurch terrorist in a mere few minutes. For this article Tim took two minutes to find content praising Elliot Rodger, the ideologically-incel related shooter that killed 7 in 2014 in Isla Vista, California.

Moreover, there is a disturbing effect of looking for content that has been hidden to avoid the most obvious forms of block put in place by TikTok. “One of the side effects of having to search for more specific terms in order to access incel content is that you often find yourself accessing other kinds of content that people are trying to hide. So for example, if you search for the name of a famous incel-adjacent 4chan board, you can very quickly find yourself watching Roblox reenactments of gore videos,” Tim explained.

“It’s reflective of a wider failure on TikTok that users determined to post or promote hateful figures or ideologies are adept at using evasion tactics to bypass simple keywords bans on TikTok. We have repeatedly called on TikTok to evolve its policies beyond narrow hashtag and keyword bans yet, as documented in other research related to terrorist content, it appears users are exploiting this enforcement gap with ease,” warned Ciarán.