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Law Commission recommends specific offence for malicious tweets sent to trigger seizures

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Nicola Swanborough

Law Commission recommends specific offence for malicious tweets sent to trigger seizures

We are thrilled to see that the Law Commission is calling on the government to introduce a specific offence to deal with flashing images posted on social media to trigger seizures in people with epilepsy.

Daily Express story about Law Commission recommending new offence to deal with internet trolls who target people with epilepsy

Read about Zach's campaign to tackle internet trolls in the Daily Express.

The Epilepsy Society has been campaigning to have this type of abuse recognised as an online harm in the government’s new Online Safety Bill, following a sustained and co-ordinated attack by internet trolls on our Twitter account and the accounts of many of our followers.

One of the victims of the attacks was 10-year-old Zach Eagling who has become the figurehead of our campaign ‘Zach’s Law’.

The Government commissioned the Law Commission to look at reform of the criminal law in the Malicious Communications Act 1988 and the Communications Act 2003. The recommendation comes in its newly published report ‘Modernising Communication Offences’ and is a huge step towards achieving our goal.

Major step forward

Nicola Swanborough, Head of External Affairs at the Epilepsy Society said: “This is brilliant news and a real recognition of the severity of the attacks sustained online by people with epilepsy. We have always said that the law has not kept pace with modern communication channels and this is a major step towards ensuring that people with epilepsy are protected from online harm.

“The Law Commission has been very keen to work with us on this issue and to understand the vulnerability of people with photosensitive epilepsy on social media. We are thrilled that they have made this recommendation and trust that the government will listen and act upon it.

“The battle is not yet won, but the finishing line is in sight. It is a moment of triumph for everyone who has joined us in our campaign, and particularly for Zach and his mum, Claire Keer, who have fought relentlessly to see that justice is done.

“If this recommendation becomes legislation alongside tough penalties imposed by regulators, OfCom, social media could become a much safer place for people with epilepsy.” 

Online harm roundtable

Over the last year Epilepsy Society worked with the Law Commission to illustrate the severity of the attacks and the potential harm for people with photosensitive epilepsy. 

In October we held an Online Harm Roundtable with MPs and the Law Commission’s Criminal Law Commissioner, Professor Penney Lewis to drive home the message that social media was a ‘wild west’ and  operating outside of the law.

The Law Commission’s recommendation comes as part of its review of the criminal law governing harmful, threatening and false communications.

Increased scope for harm

In its report ‘Modernising Communications Offences’ it states: “The last two decades have seen a revolution in communications technology. The rise of smartphones, the internet and social media has offered extraordinary new opportunities to engage with one another – to share ideas, to learn, and to debate – and on an unprecedented scale. However, there is also increased scope for harm. The criminal law has not kept pace with these changes.

“The report sets out the ways in which the law could be modernised to address online and offline communications in a proportionate and efficient way.”

The report lists four new or reformed criminal offences but also stresses that communications that are genuinely harmful should not escape criminal sanction because they do not fit with one of the proscribed categories.

The Law Commission writes: “We also discuss the issue of flashing images being sent maliciously to known sufferers of epilepsy. We did not consult on a specific form of criminal offence for this behaviour, and therefore do not make recommendations as to the precise form of the offence, but we do recommend the government introduce a specific offence to address this behaviour.”

John Nicolson MP who has supported our Zach's Law campaign, and has raised the issue in parliament, said: "This is a hugely welcome recommendation from the Law Commission. In the coming months, I will be sitting on the Joint Committee to consider the Online Safety Bill. There is a long way to go, but I am determined to ensure change is enacted.

"In an article for the Daily Express earlier this year I said: 'Any right-thinking person knows that deliberately sending flashing images to a person with epilepsy is malicious and criminal. It ought to be named as such.'

"I stand by these words today. People with epilepsy deserve to feel safe online, free from the fear of targeted and malicious abuse. This is the first step in making that a reality.“

Read about Zach's campaign to tackle internet trolls in the Daily Express.