Does more need to be done to safeguard people with photosensitive epilepsy online?

5th June 2019

There are approximately 20,000 people in the UK who have photosensitive epilepsy. At present, there are guidelines on warnings for films and TV to warn those who may be affected by flashing images. However, there have been recent calls that the government needs to do more to safeguard people who are watching videos online.

There has been an increasing number of complaints from those with photosensitive epilepsy who have been affected by videos with fast-paced and flashing imagery that leaves them vulnerable to seizures. The argument is that a simple warning before the video starts would be enough to prevent many people from watching content that could trigger a seizure.

More worryingly, there have been reports of ‘malicious content’ surfacing that seeks to actively encourage people with epilepsy to watch content that may trigger a seizure. These videos have been developed with flashing lights but tagged with epilepsy-related keywords to increase the chances they will be viewed by people who have photosensitive epilepsy.

Photosensitive epilepsy is most common in children and young people, which makes them even more susceptible to online content as they typically consume more than the older generations.

The rise of social media has made it easier than ever for those with photosensitive epilepsy to be subjected to potentially harmful content. On most sites, it’s common for videos to autoplay making it more difficult to avoid this type of content. Everything from homemade videos to professional film trailers has been reported to have triggered seizures, which highlights the sheer scale of the problem. This creates a minefield situation, especially for teens for whom the temptation to participate socially online is often stronger.

What can be done?

New regulatory measures to help protect people with photosensitive epilepsy from potentially harmful online content could be introduced. This could form part of the government’s Online Harms White Paper. This would enable fines for tech companies and online content creators that fail to provide suitable warnings about flashing images.

Should the content be deemed as malicious and created with the intent to harm people with photosensitive epilepsy it could even lead to prosecution. A deliberately cruel act such as this is not only careless, it’s particularly dangerous and should be treated in the same way as any other kind of aggression against a specific group.

What has been done so far?

A letter has been written urging Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Jeremy Wright to implement new measures within the Online Harms Whitepaper. Within he is asked to make the dangers of flashing imagery clear and encouraged to make it mandatory that all online posts should carry a warning similar to those on more traditional media sources, such as TV and films.

National Epilepsy Training can help…

For more advice or information on photosensitive epilepsy and the need to safeguard online, please call us on 01706 373075 or email