Have your say on the Online Safety Bill
The Epilepsy Society is encouraging people affected by epilepsy to submit their views on online safety to an important parliamentary committee.
There is currently no specific law against sending flashing images and GIFs to a person with epilepsy with the intent of causing seizures. The Epilepsy Society is calling for the Online Safety Bill to designate this act as a criminal offence.
The Epilepsy Society were delighted that the Law Commission backed this approach in their Modernising Communication Offences report, which states:
"We recommend that the intentional sending of flashing images to a person with epilepsy with the intention to cause that person to have a seizure should be made an offence." (21 July 2021, pg 123, Recommendation 6)
We are now asking the government to follow the Law Commission's recommendation and include this offence in the Online Safety Bill.
The Joint Committee on the Draft Online Safety Bill was established in July to analyse the government's proposals for online safety. The Committee is currently gathering information from organisations and individuals in relation to the Draft Online Safety Bill.
The deadline for this information gathering - known as a "call for evidence" - is Thursday 16th September.
How can I help?
You can submit your views on the Draft Online Safety Bill here - https://committees.parliament.uk/call-for-evidence/567/
Although the form may look a little intimidating, the process is relatively straightforward. The Committee has recommended a list of questions for people to answer, but these are merely suggestions. The Committee state that anyone submitting evidence should focus on the issues that are most important to them.
STEP 1: You will need to tick the box to say you are writing as an "individual" rather than an "organisation"
STEP 2: You then input a few basic details (name and email address)
STEP 3: Upload your comments in a Word document
STEP 4: Check your email to ensure you have received an acknowledgement email from the Committee
Specific criminal offence
The finalised Online Safety Bill should include a specific offence against sending flashing images and GIFs to people with epilepsy with the intent of causing seizures.
The Law Commission has recommended this, so it would be useful to quote their recommendation in your response:
"We recommend that the intentional sending of flashing images to a person with epilepsy with the intention to cause that person to have a seizure should be made an offence." (Modernising Communication Offences report, 21 July 2021, pg 123, Recommendation 6)
Suggested questions to answer:
- Does the draft Bill make adequate provisions for people who are more likely to experience harm online or who may be more vulnerable to exploitation?
- Are there any types of content omitted from the scope of the Bill that you consider significant? How should they be covered if so?
Many internet trolls who have targeted people with epilepsy are based outside the UK. This is a global problem, and so needs global solutions. Law enforcement and regulators like Ofcom need to be empowered to bring online bullies to justice regardless of where they live.
Suggested questions to answer:
- Will the proposed legislation effectively deliver the policy aim of making the UK the safest place to be online?
- How does the draft Bill differ to online safety legislation in other countries (e.g. Australia, Canada, Germany, Ireland, and the EU Digital Services Act) and what lessons can be learnt?
- How will Ofcom interact with the police in relation to illegal content, and do the police have the necessary resources (including knowledge and skills) for enforcement online?
If you have personal experience of being trolled and bullied online, and you are willing to share your story with the Committee, then that would be exceptionally powerful.
The Committee also accept photographic evidence, so if you have screenshots or photographs of online abuse that has been aimed at you due to your epilepsy, you can include them in your submission - although it must be all within the one Word document.
Other forms of contact
Address: Joint Committee on Draft Online Safety Bill, House of Lords, London SW1A 0PW
You can also contact your Member of Parliament to ask them to support the proposals put forward by the Law Commission. You can contact your MP by email, telephone, or post and can find out who your MP is here: members.parliament.uk/FindYourMP
Or you could tweet them with the following tweet:
@DCMS must back the proposals by the @Law_Commission and introduce a specific criminal offence against sending flashing images and GIFs to people with epilepsy with the intent of causing seizures. Back the @epilepsysociety #ZachsLaw campaign today!
See below for some background information to help you with your submission.
Background information: Online Safety Bill
In May 2021, the government published its Draft Online Safety Bill, which seeks to tackle harmful online content. The Bill establishes Ofcom as the independent regulator for online services and it proposes measures for combating online abuse, including levying fines on social media companies. While there are many parts of the Bill which the Epilepsy Society welcomes, we still believe there are insufficient safeguards for people with epilepsy.
The internet, particularly social media, can be a fantastic platform for sharing ideas and making connections. But it can also be a place where bullying and abuse run rampant.
Background information: Our Zach's Law campaign
In May 2020, there was a sustained and coordinated attack by internet trolls on the Epilepsy Society's Twitter account and the accounts of many of our followers. Sadly, this was not the first such attack, or the last. It was, however, the most sustained and vicious.
As part of this attack, hundreds of flashing images and GIFs were posted by people seeking to trigger seizures in people with photosensitive epilepsy. This was done both publicly and via private messages. These malicious posts continue to this day.
One of the victims of the attacks was then 8-year-old Zach Eagling, who has epilepsy and cerebral palsy. Zach was targeted while undertaking a charity walk to raise money for people with epilepsy. It is in his honour that we have named our campaign against online trolling, "Zach's Law."