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16 May 2020

Epilepsy Society sees worst ever bullying attack on Twitter

Epilepsy Society and its supporters, including eight-year-old Zach Eagling who has cerebral palsy and epilepsy, have been maliciously attacked on Twitter by a flood of flashing gifs designed to provoke seizures in people with epilepsy.

The charity said it is the worst attack they have ever experienced with hundreds of flashing images being targeted at their account and those of its followers, including Claire Keer, mum of schoolboy Zach.

Several followers have reported having seizures as a result of the posts.

Claire from West Yorkshire said: “When I first saw the post that was sent to me, I felt really emotional. I had tweeted a short video of Zach doing the 2.6 challenge to raise money for the Epilepsy Society. I could not believe that people would target us in this vicious manner. It is absolutely disgusting.

“But it won’t stop us. We don’t tolerate bullying in the street and we won’t tolerate it online. These people are petty, ignorant and small minded. I hope that they are brought to account for their actions.”

Provoked seizures

Another of Epilepsy Society’s followers on Twitter described how a post provoked a seizure for him. “I inadvertently viewed one of the posts and it triggered a simple partial seizure for me. This is not a joke. It is a physical assault on people struggling with epilepsy.”

It is not the first time the epilepsy charity has been maliciously attacked on Twitter with posts tagged with key words around epilepsy to deliberately target those with the condition and induce a seizure.

Co-ordinated group

Clare Pelham, Chief Executive at the Epilepsy Society, said the number of incidents had been increasing but that this was the first time they had been targeted by a co-ordinated group whose sole purpose was to cause harm.

“We have had in excess of 200 posts sent to us, all of them vile. They are targeting disabled people with photosensitive epilepsy and the worst thing is that they are intended to cause actual physical harm. Seizures are not benign events. At best they can leave people with facial injuries, broken teeth and broken bones; at worst they can be fatal.

“During the current Covid-19 pandemic, we are all having to live our lives online to protect ourselves from an invisible enemy. It is unthinkable that people who hide behind fictitious Twitter handles, are releasing their own digital virus as some form of unimaginable entertainment.”

Twitter suspend posts

The posts have been reported to the police and Twitter have taken down or suspended the violating Tweets and accounts. Twitter have also agreed to meet with Epilepsy Society to discuss the long-term regulation of flashing imagery on the platform.

The Epilepsy Society has been running a campaign to persuade the government to include regulatory measures in its Online Harms Bill to protect people with photosensitive epilepsy from malicious content on social media.

Criminal gangs

Clare Pelham continued: “This attack illustrates why social media must be regulated in the same way that broadcasting media is regulated by Ofcom. Perpetrators of these attacks must be brought within the reach of criminal law and prosecuted. They are criminal gangs just as surely as if they walked the streets of Manchester or London.”

“We have written to Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden and we will continue to raise this issue in parliament. The Online Harms Bill should address these issues and keep us all safe online.

“We may be able to protect ourselves from Covid-19 by staying two meters apart, but there is no digital social distancing or personal protective equipment that can protect people with epilepsy from harm online. And there absolutely must be.”

You can read more about this story here www.theguardian.com/society/2020/may/15/malicious-tweets-targeting-epile...