I'm sure if you've been online and strayed off of the Baby Shark music video on YouTube onto Reddit, Twitter, or even the comments section of the Baby Shark music video, to be honest, you've come across some toxic abuse at some point. It's inescapable and, it has to be said, mainly from men.
A new study has looked at particularly toxic communities, analyzing over 38 million posts on the fringe communities on the Internet, which the researchers have dubbed the "Manosphere", which have organized harassment campaigns and spread extreme ideologies over the World Wide Web. The posts were taken from the last 14 years, to see how the Manosphere has evolved over time.
The study, currently available on the pre-print server arXiv, looked at seven forums and 57 subreddits. That's subsections of Reddit, if this is your first time on the Internet (in which case, welcome to hell!). Communities included incel groups (which is short for "involuntary celibate" and is a community of men who blame women for them being celibate, rather than e.g. their dedication to hating women and the amount of time they spend on misogynistic forums) and men's rights activist groups. Men Going Their Own Way, a group that advocates abandoning women altogether, were also part of the study.
The researchers used Google’s Perspective API, which uses machine-learning techniques, to score how hateful, aggressive, and toxic posts from these communities were.
Looking at men's rights and misogynist movements, both mild and more toxic, they assembled a picture of the Manosphere, which they say is "characterized by a volume of hateful speech appreciably higher than other Web communities", including Reddit and other communities, such as Gab, which are already "known to be hateful". What's more, the Manosphere is getting more hateful over time.
"Over the past decade, the Manosphere evolved into a diverse ecosystem of Web communities with various interests/ideologies," the team wrote in their paper. "The growth of communities which espouse more extreme positions against women and women’s rights such as MGTOW and Incels overshadows older communities such as PUA and MRA."
Over time, users have been moving from milder forms of these communities to more extreme groups. Examples the researchers give of milder groups include the men's rights activists subreddit and Pick Up Artists, a subreddit dedicated to helping men "pick up women", which encourages "negging" and promotes "harassment techniques". More extreme groups include incels.
"We also find that communities increasingly share the same user base, and that there is substantial migration from the communities to the newer ones. Worryingly, the latter are more toxic and espouse nihilistic and extreme anti-women ideologies."
They found that as men were migrating from the milder groups to more extreme communities, they were becoming more toxic as they did so.