Opinion : The awful truth about trolling in the autism community

You may or may not have noticed, that my opinion writing has become less and less in the past few months. Whilst being unsure that this is the right platform to make a personal self-disclosing post I feel strongly that the content of this post will be relateable  to many of our readers.

Trolling and internet hate crime, even bullying has become more and more apparent in the media of late. With petitions flying to try and change Twitter accounts security settings, to bills being proposed to change the first amendment under American law to incorporate internet behaviour. The internet has changed the way that we communicate, and allowed people who have been until now far to under confident to voice an opinion the freedom to do so behind a screen.

Now from experience, I know that whatever your opinion on certain matters, it takes a lot of strength to voice it at times, and you do expect a certain amount of backlash. If you back your argument with solid fact, that is, it will stand up on its own. Not so online it seems. It seems that although provided with evidence, some internet users deem fit to rip work that has taken you perhaps months to complete to shreds without a modicum of evidence to support their side of the story. People who will feel happy to critique books written, without reading the book in question. To miss quote online biographies and judge an author from their biographies which don’t quite have the same wording from one web page to another. God forbid that biographies of an author change depending on the readership they are writing for!

And the lowest of the low, as experienced by advocates in our community like Kevin Healey, fake mock profiles being conjured up out of thin air in a vile act of depreciating a public profile.

I was subject to an intense period of trolling after writing an article about Thimerosal, a mercury based preservative also known as Ethylmercury. My crime? To re write an article citing that Thimerosal was used in the MMR vaccine. I’m a journalist, and sometimes on Autism Daily Newscast, we write news which everyone won’t want to read. It’s our job. Having written for five years plus by now I’ve developed a thick skin. The attacks on me were from within the autism community. They questioned my integrity, and to be completely honest rocked my self confidence in writing for a public audience, especially as a journalist who feels the responsibility of writing on an inflammatory subject to an audience who is probably more knowledgeable about than I am. It is my job to present facts, that is all. But the attackers started picking holes in my public biographies. Questioning my children. Probing into my home life. This is no one’s business apart from my own. To clarify matters completely, I am recently diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, I have one daughter and a son with Asperger’s and I bring them up alone.

Recently leading researcher  and author of I AM Aspien girl Tania Marshall experienced defamation and trolling regarding her book by a fellow author within the community. She said:

“I think my experience this week, whist not uncommon, really needs to be addressed, not in specifics, but and as much as I dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s (get IP, get trademark, etc, etc), I got targeted and mobbed, and by another author and others within the community. Like I said, this is not uncommon for any of us (including Temple Grandin Simon and Tony) but really needs to be addressed. Social media has given rise to the couch trolls who sit behind fake profiles (or not) and openly slander, defame, lie, you get the drift, AND get away with it.”

She did receive an apology:

Hi Tania,
“Thank you for alerting us to this. I have spoken to my colleagues and please be assured that no legal teams are involved. We have now looked through your copy of I am Aspiengirl and we do not believe that there is any copyright infringement. Please also be assured that we have not involved any lawyers and we do not intend to do so. We are trying to resolve these concerns which we think are ill founded.”

Best wishes,
Name withheld for confidentiality reasons
Jessica Kingsley Publishers

More on Tania’s experience in the next edition of ASDigest.

It has however become a worrying trend within the autism community to argue a point without knowing the full facts. It’s a disappointing trend in my opinion. It is sometimes difficult when passionate to restrain an opinion, and it is easy to slander unwittingly on the internet. This post goes out to all, don’t devalue people, the same applies to the internet. Treat people, authors, advocates, journalists, the way you would want to be treated. Being behind a screen really doesn’t make a difference. In fact, if you have something to say, say it in an adult communication and back your statements up with fact. Think before you post. It is a civil offence to defame someone and IP addresses are tracable. Who knows you may actually be sued for shooting from the hip.

And if you are subject to trolling – beware not to feed them…

Interesting further reading can be found here:





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About Shân Ellis

Shân Ellis, is a qualified journalist with five years experience of writing features, blogging and working on a regional newspaper. Prior to working as a journalist, she was a ghost writer for top publishers and was closely involved in the editing and development of book series. Shân has a degree in the sciences, and 5 A levels. She lives in the UK and is the mother of an autistic child.


  1. Laurel Joss says:

    Excellent post, Shan.

  2. Hi,
    I love that you wrote about this, especially because we’re supposed to be a community!
    How can we be a functional community if we’re constantly tearing ourselves and others down?
    The autism community is filled with lots of different people , and every person has a different opinion and perspective on everything, and that’s allowed, but if we fight among our selves so darn badly, no good can happen! No forward progress can be made! And we’re so mean to one another sometimes that its no big wonder that the rest of the world views us as such negative or aggressive people 🙁

    I draw a slice of life comic about living in the spectrum, and I’d like to share my post in relation to what you’ve said here, if thats ok.
    Thank you again for writing this, its something I have very strong feelings about 🙂


  3. I do not understand this post. MMR has never included thimerosal. It is three ‘live’ viruses. I then looked at the section of your website on the causes of autism, and you identify Jenny McCarthy as an authority, you give no acknowledgement to the overwhelming scientific consensus that autistic disorders have largely genetic underpinning, or that ‘environmental’ in the context of human development mostly means in the womb.
    I don’t know what you mean when you say you’ve had trouble with trolls, because you don’t give any examples. But I can imagine that some people might get upset if they think you haven’t done basic homework, or that you are unwilling to acknowledge consensus views in science and medicine.

    • Shân Ellis says:

      We do not quote Jenny McCarthy as an authority, we simply report news. If Jenny McCarthy makes news we report on it. If you look at our research section you can also see we have also reported on Transcription and replication of DNA and RNA molecules and gene sequencing issues in developing embryos as a possible cause for autism. I’m not here to say what’s right or what’s wrong, I’m here to report the news. I did my homework, I continue to learn.

  4. Planet Autism says:

    Do you mean it is autistic people trolling you and others, or NT parents of autistic children? If the latter, then I have absolutely had this attitude online. I am an Aspie mother of two ASC children. NT parents can be the worst. They often resent an Aspie adult within their midst, I have suffered discrimination on forums by these people. You’d think they would be the most open-minded and accepting, having ASC children themselves, but apparently not. They seem to want to make their children fit into as NT a box as possible and I think it’s an uncomfortable truth for many of them that their child will be an autistic adult and will still have their traits and problems that accompany them.