Understanding Male Depression Through the Lens of 4chan

Tabitha Prisinzano
Oct 21, 2018 · 8 min read

Incels, NEETs, neckbeards, MRAs, MGTOW, pickup artists, nice guys, normies, normalfags, Chads, Stacies, Beckies, waifus, red-pillers, black-pillers, gymcels, wristcels, braincels, based Gods, beta-cucks, alpha-males, internet tough guys, omega males, cucks, wage slaves, wage cucks, trad-thots, roasties, femoids, edge-lords, basement dwellers, hikikomories, otaku, SJWs, hypergamy, Kek, virtue signaling, sexual market value, rope-fuel, chicken tendie stories, thundercock, sui-streams, angry Pepe, comfy Pepe, REEEEEEEEE……

This is the coded language of the dark underbelly of the internet — the clandestine forums spreading like a seething miasma through sites like 4chan and Reddit. Despite the reality that most people will never encounter any of these ideas in real life, the internet is bursting with chat forums and content dedicated to increasing their influence. Often, trolls from these message boards pollute the comment sections of articles posted in major, left leaning publications, such as Huffington Post, Vice, Bustle or the Atlantic in efforts to direct hate at feminists and others they believe are in direct opposition to them. They’ve become infamous for their shockingly hateful, racist or misogynist rhetoric.

The image of the troll is immutable — a lonely, isolated male with undiagnosed agoraphobia, licking the Cheeto dust from his fingertips in preparation to institute massive pwnage upon the SJWs of the internet. This stereotype is so embedded in our culture it has become memefied. But what is this movement if not centrifugal — emanating from the fetid basements of angry, isolated men who feel rejected by society — men who have retreated to the digital space in an effort to cope with their crippling social anxiety?

Most people only become aware of these toxic spaces in the wake of a horrific event such as a school shooting or a bombing. Dylann Roof, for example, was well known to have frequented the extremist right wing message board on 4chan, r/pol, before gunning down 9 people in a racially driven massacre during an all black church service in Charleston, SC. Similarly, disgruntled virgin, Elliot Rodger, the Virginia Tech Shooter and even the infamous Florida school shooter, Nicholas Cruz, were all known to frequent these transgressive digital spaces prior to committing heinous acts of violence.

Dylann Roof (Photo Taken From Charleston City Paper)

It’s tempting to demonize these types of message boards as sick spaces populated by depraved individuals, but upon investigation, web forums such as 4chan and Incels.me are far more complex than simply spaces for creeps to convene online. When one dedicates even a infinitesimal amount of research to these boards, patterns begin to emerge among the users that would — dare I say it — draw a certain level of sympathy.

As I delved deeper into the crevices of the underground web, spectating from a distance, I noticed these spaces were largely populated with young men suffering from myriad social and mental issues such as: autism, ADHD, social anxiety disorder, personality disorders and agoraphobia. One common thread that seemed to bind them was their depression.

This got me thinking about how we treat depression in this country; specifically depression experienced by men and boys in our society.

I pointed out earlier that there’s a running theme in the underground digital world to shock and transgress traditional social boundaries. The veil of anonymity affords these trolls the freedom to unleash extreme hatred and loathsome rhetoric within an echo chamber that applauds this type of behavior online.

Posts such as this….

Excerpt from Inceldom Discussion Taken From Huffington Post

Or this…..

Post from popular Incel forum r/braincels

Are all too common in these spaces, which disgusts most outsiders looking into this online culture, and rightfully so. Most people don’t consider the outside elements that may have corrupted the poster’s perspective, however, and view these posts at face value, labeling the posters behind them as monsters in response.

When one considers the toxicity culminating within spaces, such as 4chan or Incels.me, it is easy to demonize the faceless members of these pernicious message boards. One must not forget, however, there is a person behind those abhorrent posts and people are a lot more complex than simply good or evil.

Online Anonymity and Poor Self Image

Typically, those who frequent 4chan, Incels.me and other message boards are men of whom society has deemed as “nerds” or social outcasts.

Unless these social outcasts are able to form meaningful, real life connections with their peers, they can often feel ostracized by society and develop a poor self image.

One of the main reasons people cite as the appeal of role playing games is the ability to pretend they’re someone they can’t be in real life. Someone bullied at school for their quirky behavior or weak physique, for example, can go home and become a warrior lord with a charismatic personality while playing D&D or World of Warcraft.

Message boards can embody a similar appeal by allowing users to be anonymous. Users can mask their insecurities by boasting about their high IQ (common) or other exaggerating other facets of their personalities to appear more confident or important. This brings me to my next point.

Studies have shown that internet trolls lack a characteristic referred to as “social competence,” similar to self esteem but relating more the the trolls’ ability to make connections with peer group. Traits such as extroversion, dominance and friendliness are the key components to social competence and those who experience deficiencies in those traits, potentially caused by neurological or psychiatric disorders, often compensate by seeking negative attention online to achieve a quick boost in self esteem and get the attention they crave.

4chan and similar message boards act as gathering places for internet trolls to convene and shed their edgy a veneer while maintaining an anonymity that allows them to create an online persona that differs greatly from their real world image. It’s in these message boards that one can begin assess the anger and sadness they experience, mainly because, although maintaining a caustic persona, they let their guard down. Reading “rope-fuel” (suicide inducing) posts sheds light on the epidemic of depression and hopelessness experienced by many 4chan and Incels.me users alike.

How Males React to Depression

Anonymous Reddit Poster. Photo Taken For Imgur

I stated earlier that the common thread that seems to bind internet trolls on 4chan and similar message boards is depression. A staggering 70% of 4chan’s users are male and the percentage of men on Incels.me can be presumed to be considerably higher due to the popular notion in this community that women cannot be incels.

Unfortunately, much of what is common knowledge about the symptoms of depression comes from the way women experience the illness — namely because women are more likely to seek help for depression. Men and women actually respond to depression is vastly different ways.

According to Web MD, while women with depression report feelings of anguish and worthlessness, men are more likely to experience feelings of hostility and aggression. They’re also more likely to withdraw — which is probably why they tend not to seek help. This is likely to explain both 4chan posters’ hateful rhetoric and their tendency to retreat to online spaces rather than professionals in an attempt to cope.

A good percentage of 4chan’s users are diagnosed with either autism or ADHD from their own admission and people with neurological complications and learning disabilities are nearly twice as likely to experience depression than the general population.

Many who sympathize with message board user’s plight by excusing their abhorrent behavior blame obscure societal concepts, such as hypergamy, or women’s tendency to seek high status mates, for the state of these men. To me, however, hypergamy simply sounds like freedom and to force someone to lower their standards is in tandem with thought policing. I think there is something else at play here and another solution.

4chan users and red-pilled men overall have largely rejected the concept of toxic masculinity, which is the idea that there are certain societal concepts that surround masculinity that could be harmful to men, such as glorification of aggression, shame in expressing emotion, parental distance and etc.

The reason many of these red-pilled types have rejected this concept is because they simply misunderstand its purpose. They believe toxic masculinity seeks to demonize ordinary male behavior, such as rowdiness in young boys, when in reality, the concept exists to help men.

I’m not suggesting the way men experience depression has to do with negative social conditioning, I’m simply suggesting men don’t seek help because a stigma of weakness is attached.

In a patriarchal society, men are expected maintain an image of strength, and while there’s nothing wrong with resilience, many men experiencing depression may be too ashamed to admit it.

This leads them to seek online camaraderie through message boards like 4chan, and while that could be fine, 4chan is unfortunately a place where sick behavior is enabled and glorified. Dylann Roof is considered a hero in some of these boards, as is Eliot Rodger. This is because it is the blind leading the blind — a group of depressed men lashing out their aggression in anonymous spaces. This can be disastrous as some men, such as Dylann Roof or Eliot Rodger, feel empowered to act out in real life. Considerably more commit suicide. What needs to happen is for society to create a culture that allows men to admit their depression and seek help without fear of shame.

All too often it’s women who share experiences of depression. Rarely do we see men discussing mental health issues in mainstream spaces. This may be causing men to further withdraw and lead to isolation which only worsens matters.

What Does The Economy Have to Do With It?

For American men, seeking help for depression may have added challenges since healthcare may not be available to them. Mental health is not often prioritized over other types of healthcare, and therefore those suffering may be less likely to look at healthcare options, especially if they’re costly.

When left untreated, mental health issues begin to fester and toxic message boards fuel negativity by encouraging transgressive behavior and “black-pilling” (encouraging the adoption of a pessimistic and hopeless worldview) fellow users.

Furthermore, oftentimes mental illness can affect employment, leading to further economic anxiety. This makes those suffering even less likely to seek care.

In conclusion, the prevalence of internet trolls suggests a deep problem in society with the way we treat male depression and mental health in general. Male depression symptoms can lead to the kind of hostile behavior we see displayed on message boards, and in a group of peers it’s easy to see how these sick behaviors fester.

Social norms need to change in ways that allow men to share their experiences with mental illness and learning disabilities in encouraging and productive ways. Only after society has addressed the massive mental health problem facing today’s youth, and is inclusive of men, can online culture begin to repair itself.

Tabitha Prisinzano

Written by

Tabitha Prisinzano is a writer and music critic out of the Cleveland area. She studied English Literature at Columbia College.

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