In a truly disgusting story that highlights the terrors of online trolls, hundreds of people sent malicious flashing GIF images in response to a fundraiser led by a young boy with epilepsy and his mother.
The Epilepsy Society, who were involved with the fundraiser and retweeted the requests for help on social network Twitter commented saying that it was the worst attack they have ever experienced on their account, although it had happened before.
Zach, who has cerebral palsy and epilepsy had only just managed to walk independently and was doing the 2.6K challenge to raise money, hoping to achieve this before his birthday with a goal of £260. After smashing his target his Mum, Claire shared the news with the Epilepsy Society Twitter page which was retweeted.
Over 200 posts were sent to the charity’s Twitter page, each described as “vile”, targeting people with photosensitive epilepsy using flashing images designed for the sole purpose of inducing a seizure. Several Twitter users reported having experienced a seizure as a result of the images with one anonymous user commenting: ‘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.”
A spokesman for the charity commented that they had seen an increase in malicious posts of this nature, but this was by far the worst. They had also seen an increase in posts using epilepsy related hashtags trying to attack people with epilepsy using flashing images.
The spokesman went on to say: “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.”
Action has been taken and the posts were reported to Twitter, leading to the posts being removed from the website and the accounts suspended. Twitter has also met with the Epilepsy Society to discuss a long term strategy for protecting people online, with the most likely outcome being regulations on flashing images. A campaign to add regulatory measures into the Online Harms Bill has also begun, which they hope will be called ‘Zach’s Law’.
It’s unfortunate that events of this nature can be targeted at a vulnerable group with the intent to cause harm. We can only hope that in the months to come that something will be done to protect and safeguard those with epilepsy when online.