Online creator Chris Chan was arrested and charged with one count of incest on August 1.
She has been the target of a brutal trolling campaign since her "Sonichu" comics went viral in 2007.
Experts told Insider that Chan's autism diagnosis could have made her an easier target for trolls.
Online creator Christine Weston Chandler was arrested and charged with a count of incest on August 1 after a leaked audio recording alleged that Chandler had sex with her 79-year-old mother. Immediately, the corners of the internet that have spent over a decade documenting and obsessing over Chandler's life were set ablaze with posts celebrating her arrest.
Chandler is widely considered one of the most famous victims of online trolling in internet history. She then built her own following on YouTube and other platforms after facing extreme harassment.
The trolls have continued to follow her to this day. Even the audio recording, which went viral on July 30, was seemingly spread by an internet troll.
Chandler, a 39-year-old from Ruckersville, Virginia, began facing online abuse in 2007, when a critic made a derisive post on comedy website Something Awful Forums about a comic character Chandler created called "Sonichu," a fusion of the video game characters Sonic the Hedgehog and Pikachu. This post later went viral on 4chan, where more trolls became fascinated with Chandler's life and online persona.
Chandler, who has said that she was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder as a child, quickly became a go-to target on internet forums and was frequently duped by online trolls pretending to be potential romantic partners or celebrities offering fake business opportunities.
Chandler's lawyer told Insider in a statement that she had faced mental health issues that affected her judgment when communicating with trolls.
Experts told Insider that an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis could have made someone like Chandler more susceptible to brutal trolling. They also said online abuse could cause additional mental health problems.
Chandler's autism may have impacted her relationships with online trolls
Chandler has said numerous times that she was diagnosed with "high-functioning autism," which, although not an official diagnosis, is commonly referred to as Asperger's Syndrome. Autism is a neurological condition that impacts a person's sensory processing, communication, and ability to socially interact, among other things.
A 2013 study published in the Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders journal found that autistic people are more "socially vulnerable than others, which puts them at an increased risk of victimization and exploitation."
People are more likely to take advantage of autistic folks' limited social awareness and desire for friendship for amusement or other motives, according to research by Simon Baron-Cohen, the director of the Autism Research Centre at the University of Cambridge. Research by the National Autistic Society, a UK-based charity, suggests that half of all autistic adults are abused by someone they considered to be a friend.
Dr. Robin Kowalski, a psychology professor at Clemson University, told Insider in an email that "it's [certainly] possible that individuals with disabilities like Asperger's may not initially recognize behaviors as cyberbullying and take them as someone trying to initiate friendship," which could lead to further victimization.
Chandler's attorney, David Heilberg, told Insider that Chandler's "engagement with others" online was "partly a product of mental health issues," though it was not clear whether he was referring to Chandler's autism diagnosis, which is a neurological disorder. (Heilberg did not respond to an inquiry seeking clarification.)
That engagement with others frequently appeared to further encourage trollish behavior from followers.
Dr. Jonathan N. Stea, a registered clinical psychologist and adjunct assistant professor at the University of Calgary, told Insider in an email that some trolls may "derive pleasure or enjoyment from being cruel or demeaning to others," especially when the victim engages back with the trolls.
"Like a slot machine, randomly responding to trolling just strengthens the motivation for it to continue, in part because a target comes to represent the pleasure associated with trolling," Stea said.
Transgender identity can make someone more vulnerable to online harassment
Chandler came out as transgender in 2016. As documented on the CWCki, a wiki page dedicated to documenting Chandler's life, trolls alleged that Chandler's transition was disingenuous and many continued to use he and him pronouns when referring to her.
Dr. Brooke Erin Duffy, a communications professor at Cornell University who has conducted research on gendered cyberbullying, told Insider that internet haters may have swarmed around Chandler more than other online personalities due to the combination of her identity as a transgender woman and her neurological condition.
"In this case, we're talking about someone who is both transgender and has reportedly been diagnosed with mental health issues, and so they became a target for larger debates [about gender and ableism] that circulate in society," Duffy said.
It's unclear how much of an impact Chandler's autism diagnosis may have on the outcome of her case
Her disability aside, there have been concerns raised on social media about Chandler's grip on reality. Prior to the arrest, she would frequently discuss concepts such as alternate realities - "dimensional merges," wherein she claims she "shares" a body with her character "Sonichu" - as well as believing herself to be a goddess and claiming to have romantic relationships with fictional characters such as Mewtwo from "Pokemon."
Heilberg, Chandler's attorney, told Insider that he plans to ask the judge for a psychological evaluation of Chandler ahead of a potential trial.
Jacob Weinstein, a criminal defense and civil rights attorney, told Insider the influence that disabilities can have on judgments in cases like these varies on a person by person basis, but he said it's imperative to have a mental health expert testify before the court.
Kowalski, the psychology professor, added that the level of personal information shared online about Chandler could have further compromised her mental state.
"Whether people read all of the posts or not, simply knowing that information of that nature is being posted about them can be extremely damaging to someone's mental health," Kowalski said. "No one would be immune to the harmful consequences of that level of prolonged bullying in any form."
Despite her susceptibility to trolling and the effect that's had on her life, there's no evidence to suggest that having a condition such as autism makes someone more likely to commit a crime.
Additionally, research by the American Psychological Association conducted in 2014 found no significant link between committing a crime and having a mental health disorder of any kind.
Read the original article on Insider