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Epilepsy Society welcomes Twitter’s ban of GIF search terms

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Nicola Swanborough

Epilepsy Society welcomes Twitter’s ban of GIF search terms

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.

The Epilepsy Society raised concerns with Twitter after the charity and many of its followers were bombarded with malicious tweets in a sustained attack that has seen the number of abusive posts exceed a thousand.

Several people reported seizures or ill effects as a result of the flashing images.   

During the recent online attacks, Epilepsy Society was able to identify that flashing images appeared as results in Twitter’s GIF search function for the search terms ‘photosensitive’, ‘photosensitivity’ and ‘epileptic’. 

The search terms ‘epilepsy’, ‘seizure’ and ‘seizures’ had already been banned on the platform. Now, in response to the Epilepsy Society, the social media giant has also banned the further three terms from its GIF search function.

Although it does not completely prevent trolls from accessing harmful images from other online libraries, it does limit the channels through which they can access content to use in attacks against users with epilepsy. 

Twitter has said, ‘’Ensuring the safety of those on Twitter is our top priority. As part of this commitment and to protect those living with epilepsy from potentially harmful content, we provide people with the option of preventing media from autoplaying in their Timelines.

"We continue to explore options to safeguard the experience of people on our service and, in collaboration with the Epilepsy Society, have taken some initial steps in managing GIF searches. We look forward to continuing our work together and making Twitter a safer place."

More must be done

Epilepsy Society welcomed Twitter’s response to concerns raised around their GIF search, but emphasised that more must still be done to safeguard people with epilepsy online. 

Nicola Swanborough, Acting Head of External Affairs at the charity said: “Twitter is a vast and unwieldy platform, but it is good to see that its staff have listened to our concerns and appreciated the very real threat that flashing images pose to people who are photosensitive.

“It has been encouraging to see their willingness to work with us to make the platform a safer place, but there is still much more to do. That is why we are campaigning for this type of malicious abuse to be criminalised and for all social media platforms to be properly regulated to stop this type of user generated content.

“It is beyond our comprehension that people would take pleasure in targeting people with seizures. We know that people with epilepsy gain a lot of peer support and information through Twitter and we will do everything we can to ensure that it is a safe space for everyone.”

The charity is continuing to work with the platform to explore and implement further safety measures.

It is also reaching out to GIF libraries directly, as well as other social media platforms, to discuss a range of measures to safeguard people with epilepsy online.

Join our campaign to pass #ZachsLaw

During the attack in May 2020, one of the people targeted was a 9-year-old boy called Zach, who lives with epilepsy and cerebral palsy.

Epilepsy Society are currently campaigning for the UK Government to include people with photosensitive epilepsy in their Online Harms Bill.

We want the Government to:

•     Instruct the Crown Prosecution Service  to give guidance on how best this behaviour can be prosecuted

•     Clarify the criminal law by making this behaviour a specific criminal offence

•     Include this behaviour within the definition of an “online harm” in the Online Harms Bill later this year. This will require social media companies to clamp down on its spread on their platforms.

Pass #ZachsLaw by writing to your MP