Zach's Law now official
The Epilepsy Society has welcomed the passing of Zach's Law, which means it will become a criminal offence for anyone to try to trigger a seizure in someone with epilepsy by targeting them with flashing images online.
The new legislation, included within the Online Safety Bill, is named after 12-year-old Zach Eagling, a young schoolboy with epilepsy and cerebral palsy, who was just eight when he became one of the first victims of a malicious online attack.
It is the first time in the UK and, to the best of our understanding, in the world that legislation has been written specifically to safeguard people with epilepsy and will mean anyone who posts flashing images with intent to trigger a seizure could face a five-year prison sentence.
This is the culmination of three years of campaigning by the Epilepsy Society, Zach and his mum, Claire Keer. Although Zach's Law was included in the Online Safety Bill in December, it is not until today that the Bill itself has passed, following intensive scrutiny in both the House of Commons and House of Lords. You can view a video about our journey here.
Commenting on the passing of the Online Safety Bill, Zach's mum, Claire, said:
“I could not be prouder of what Zach has achieved. For the past three and a half years, he has been spearheading the Zach’s Law campaign run by the Epilepsy Society to bring these trolls to justice. He has taken time out of school to meet with politicians, policy makers and the media. He has taken on the internet trolls and won."
“I would like to thank everyone who has relentlessly backed Zach in this campaign, including many MPs from across all the parties. And of course, the Epilepsy Society for their determination to make the world a safer place for people with epilepsy.”
The Epilepsy Society's Chief Executive, Clare Pelham, backed these comments, saying: “This is an historic day for everyone with epilepsy. Three years ago, when the Epilepsy Society’s Twitter account was flooded with flashing images and GIFs designed to cause seizures, we felt helpless in trying to stop them. The trolls were operating beyond the reach of the law because the law, written in the time of typewriters and printer’s ink, had not kept pace with the digital world.
“It is life-affirming today to be celebrating the enactment of the Online Safety Bill which includes a new law – Zach’s Law – which means the trolling of anyone with epilepsy to deliberately cause seizures will become a criminal offence carrying a maximum sentence of five years’ imprisonment. And importantly social media companies who have provided a fertile environment for these keyboard warriors to hide in plain sight, will also face heavy penalties if they allow this behaviour to continue.”
“I believe this is the first time anywhere in the world that a law has been written specifically to protect people with epilepsy and I feel proud that our country is leading the way in protecting disabled people in the digital world.”
What is the Online Safety Bill? And what is Zach's Law?
The Online Safety Bill is legislation which includes measures to keep UK users safe online. It will make social media companies more responsible for their users’ safety on their platforms and will tackle issues including promotion of self-harm and cyberflashing.
For many years, people with epilepsy have been targeted by internet trolls sending malicious flashing images with the deliberate intent to trigger a seizure. We understand the emotional and physical harm this has caused for people with epilepsy. One of the people targeted was a eight-year-old boy with cerebral palsy and epilepsy called Zach.
Zach was doing a sponsored walk - his first unaided - for the Epilepsy Society when he was targeted by online bullies. The Epilepsy Society has campaigned since 2020 for the Online Safety Bill to criminalise the sending of flashing images and GIFs aimed at causing seizures and harming people with epilepsy. We have called this campaign #ZachsLaw. In December 2022, the Government agreed to include Zach's Law in the Online Safety Bill. In September 2023, the Bill passed and became the law of the land.