Write to your MP about the Online Harms Bill
Following the attacks on Twitter, with malicious gifs posted to provoke seizures, we are urging people to join our campaign to safeguard people with epilepsy from online harm. We are asking you to write to your local MP, asking for their support in including people with photosensitive epilepsy in the government’s Online Harms Bill.
This is an important piece of legislation that is expected to be published in 2021. It will focus on harmful material being disseminated on online platforms, such as terrorism, exploitation of children or vulnerable adults, and other criminal activity.
However, at Epilepsy Society we think that online harms legislation should go further and protect people with epilepsy. In May 2020, over 200 malicious posts were sent to Epilepsy Society’s Twitter account in just 48 hours. Many of our supporters were targeted, including an eight year old boy with cerebral palsy and epilepsy. At least two people reported having seizures.
We want the Government to:
- The UK Government to instruct the Crown Prosecution Service on how to prosecute offences against the person when someone has deliberately and knowingly disseminated online material capable of causing a seizure;
- Include the knowing dissemination of online material capable of causing a seizure in the definition of an ‘online harm’ in online harms legislation;
- Social media companies to develop and employ technology that would prevent the dissemination of online material capable of causing a seizure.
If you would like to email or write to your Member of Parliament, we have a suggested format below. If you would like to include your own experience with epilepsy you can put this in the fourth paragraph where it says [INSERT YOUR OWN EXPERIENCE ABOUT EPILEPSY HERE].
You could also call your Member of Parliament’s office and arrange an appointment to speak with them.
You can find your local Member of Parliament and their contact information here: members.parliament.uk/FindYourMP
Dear [MP NAME],
I live at [INSERT ADDRESS] in your constituency and I am emailing you to urge the Secretary of State to bring forward online harms legislation to protect people with epilepsy.
A recent article (epilepsysociety.org.uk/Twitter-attack) highlighted how epilepsy organisations and people with epilepsy online are being targeted. Social media accounts are being set up to target people with epilepsy with flashing GIFs and videos designed to trigger seizures. These accounts target profiles about epilepsy and hashtags commonly used by people with epilepsy. These online posts have damaging and harmful real-world consequences.
Having a seizure can lead to severe injuries, unemployment, social isolation, and can be fatal. Every year 1,000 people die from epilepsy. That is why I am asking you to back Epilepsy Society’s campaign to criminalise this behaviour and compel social media companies to prevent harmful material from being used to target those with epilepsy on their platforms.
I am also asking you to back the Law Commission's proposals which were published in September in the paper Harmful Online Communications.
Professor Penney Lewis from the Law Commission told the Epilepsy Society: “As the internet and social media have become an everyday part of our lives, there has been an increase in abuse targeted at a range of groups including people with epilepsy.
“Our proposals aim to tackle this harmful behaviour and we hope to hear from those targeted in this way so that we can better protect them from this abuse. We know that someone who sends flashing images to a person with epilepsy, thereby causing a seizure, could potentially be guilty of an offence against the person, for example assault causing actual bodily harm. But there is more we can do.”
[INSERT YOUR OWN EXPERIENCE ABOUT EPILEPSY HERE]
I would be grateful if you could urgently write to Oliver Dowden the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport about this malicious online content which is causing harm and distress to many people throughout the country.
Twitter have taken the decision to ban three key search terms, ‘epileptic, photosensitive and photosensitivity’ from its GIF search function, after internet trolls persistently used them to access flashing images with the intent of triggering seizures in people with epilepsy.
UK charity sees worst ever cyber bullying attack on Twitter as eight-year-old boy with epilepsy and cerebral palsy is targeted.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has made a firm commitment to raise our concerns about malicious tweets designed to provoke seizures in people with photosensitive epilepsy, with Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Oliver Dowden.