Study examines Autisticsbin online hare groups

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Joined: 25 Aug 2013
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28 Apr 2021, 9:38 am

Ground-breaking study examines link between autism and radical online communities

Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital’s Bloorview Research Institute is leading this international research team.

Autistic people are often on the receiving end of online hate speech. But, according to the researchers, recent reports suggest some individuals on the spectrum are participating in hate speech forums themselves – a phenomenon that is a growing concern among clinicians and experts in the autism field.

While we don’t know how many autistic people are posting in these radical online communities, we want to emphasize that our research team believes this is a very small subset of the autistic population,” said Dr. Melanie Penner, lead author of the study and an autism expert at Holland Bloorview’s Autism Research Centre.

“Right now, we have some reports from media and clinicians that autistic people are participating in internet sites known to be associated with online hate. However, we do not know what is driving this participation. This is what we intend to find out.”

An international research team from Canada, the U.S and the U.K. will embark on a two-year study funded by a prestigious New Frontiers in Research Fund grant. This team comprises autism and hate studies experts, health-care practitioners, as well as people with autism and lived experience with online hate extremism.

First, the researchers will use natural language processing fueled by machine learning to identify posts in online hate speech forums written by those who self-identify as autistic.
The team will also interview autistic people who are currently or formerly involved in these types of forums. Their goal? To understand the life factors that may influence their participation, such as unemployment, social isolation, and whether certain aspects of autism increases a person’s risk of becoming involved with online hate forums.

Using the study’s findings, the researchers will develop strategies that will both keep autistic people from joining and support other participants to leave and get assistance. These prevention measures can include collaborating with autistic clients and their families to develop evidence-based materials on internet safety. The researchers will also create a toolkit for health-care professionals to recognize and respond to signs that their autistic clients may be participating in hate speech forums.

Co-investigator Christian Picciolini, founder of the U.S.-based Free Radicals Project, says in his intervention work over the past 20 years, he can recognize a pattern of common experiences and traits that can make certain individuals, including those who are autistic, particularly susceptible to extremist tactics.

“As a former extremist, I know how hate groups prey on vulnerable populations,” said Picciolini, whose organization helps some 100 autistic people, some of whom would participate in the study. “I am looking forward to further developing evidence-based strategies to help them and others disengage from hate and extremism.”

The research team:
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Melanie Penner, Holland Bloorview, Bloorview Research Institute, and assistant professor, Department of Paediatrics, University of Toronto, Canada

John Elder Robison, College of William & Mary, U.S.
Barbara Perry, Ontario Tech University, Canada
Suzanne Stevenson, University of Toronto, Canada
Christian Picciolini, Free Radicals Project, U.S.

Dr. Rachel Loftin, Department of Psychiatry, Yale School of Medicine, U.S.
Christie Welch, Autism Research Centre, Holland Bloorview, Canada
Patrick Jachyra, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Canada
Simon Baron-Cohen, Autism Research Centre, University of Cambridge, U.K.
Ricardo Rivera, Southern Poverty Law Centre, U.S.
Azadeh Kushki, Autism Research Centre, Holland Bloorview, Canada
Dr. Alexander Westphal, Department of Psychiatry, Yale School of Medicine, U.S.

Obviously this is a topic I wish I was not posting about. While of course as mentioned in the article we are more likely to be victims and autistic people and most autistics are not involved there have been enough of us involved that this can not be swept under the rug any longer. While at the urging of autism advocacy groups the media has been better at avoiding explicitly linking autism and hate groups people will and probably are making that connection. What can not be denied is that many of us fit the profile of a person these groups like to recruit from. In order to deal with the problem we have to know in some detail what the problem is. Hopefully this study will help.

This is a fraught subject that could lead to harm for a lot of us, therefore it is of utmost importance to get it right. Harm from whatever is real is just something we are going to have to deal with. Unneeded harm because they found connections that are not there because they were looking for connections would be a disaster. They must be careful not to label every conservative or even Trumpian opinion posted as hate speech or assume it is the first step towered radicalization. While this group is indeed esteemed they are human and thus part of current society which is rapidly expanding definitions of hate.

I see John Elder Robison is a member of the group. Considering what is at stake I would like to see more Autistic involvement.

Professionally Identified and joined WP August 26, 2013
DSM 5: Autism Spectrum Disorder, DSM IV: Aspergers Moderate Severity.

“My autism is not a superpower. It also isn’t some kind of god-forsaken, endless fountain of suffering inflicted on my family. It’s just part of who I am as a person”. - Sara Luterman


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28 Apr 2021, 11:37 pm



Joined: 1 Oct 2017
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28 Apr 2021, 11:52 pm

Well said, ASPartofme, you make excellent points.

(Nice hare, Traven!)
Can a mod correct the subject line?


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28 Apr 2021, 11:56 pm

I hope that things improve for us soon.


Om Nom 2024