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#ZachsLaw: protecting people with epilepsy online

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#ZachsLaw: protecting people with epilepsy online

In summer 2022, the Government promised that Zach's Law would be enacted in full as part of the Online Safety Bill. This is a huge win for all of us at the Epilepsy Society, and especially for Zach.

In a debate at the Online Safety Bill Committee, Chris Philp, minister for tech and the digital economy, pledged that there will be a "separate, standalone" offence for epilepsy trolling - a true global first. The Government later confirmed that Zach's Law would be included in the Online Safety Bill when it is introduced to the House of Lords in autumn 2022. This announcement was praised by the Epilepsy Society, Zach Eagling and a cross-party collection of MPs. 

The cause

The Online Safety Bill sets out government plans for a world-leading package of measures to keep UK users safe online. And the charity has fought to ensure the plans include regulations against the trolling of people with epilepsy.

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 Eagling

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 malicious posts aimed at causing seizures and harming people with epilepsy. We have called this campaign #ZachsLaw in his honour.

We have also been in contact with a number of social media platforms to work to reduce risk to people with epilepsy online, including Twitter, TikTok, GIPHY, Tenor and Facebook.

The campaign 

Prior to the Government's announcement in June 2022 that Zach's Law would be enacted, the Epilepsy Society enjoyed a number of other campaign wins, including:

  • In July 2021, the Law Commission backed Zach's Law in their report Modernising Communications Offences (PDF opens in new tab). This was a crucial step in securing Zach's Law. Once we had the backing of the Commission, which reviews existing law and recommends new laws, we knew that politicians were more likely to listen to - and understand - our campaign. The report stated:

"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."

  • Following this, the Joint Committee on the Draft Online Safety Bill, an important cross-party parliamentary committee set up to scrutinise online legislation, also backed Zach's Law. And in January 2022, the Culture Select Committee gave Zach's Law its seal of approval.
  • We hosted an online safety roundtable (video below), attended by both Conservative and Labour MPs
  • We were featured in national newspapers including the Daily Express and Metro (opens in metro.co.uk)
  • To cap it off, in June 2022 the Zach's Law campaign won both a Mark of Excellence award at the CIPR Excellence awards and Best Advocacy Campaign at the Purpose awards. 

The campaign has been mentioned several times in Parliament, including by MPs Suzanne Webb and Dean Russell (videos below).

As of summer 2022, the Ministry of Justice is roadtesting the Zach's Law offence and we are awaiting final Government approval in the House of Lords. The finalised Bill is likely to become law in early 2023.

 

Epilepsy Society welcomes unequivocal commitment from Government

Nicola Swanborough, Head of External Affairs, Epilepsy Society, 21st June 2022:

“We were thrilled to hear the Government give their unequivocal commitment to introducing Zach’s Law, making it a specific offence to troll people with epilepsy by sending flashing images online.

“A huge thanks to MPs from across the political divide who held the Government’s feet to the flames on this issue and ensured that Zach's voice was heard in Parliament.

“This offence will be a first in epilepsy and is a real win for everyone who has joined us on our Zach’s Law campaign. Most importantly, it will make social media a safer place for the 600,000 people with the condition in the UK.

“We now urge the Government to enact this legislation without delay.”

Claire Keer, Zach's mum, 21st June 2022:

“I am so happy to hear that the Government have committed to enacting Zach’s Law in full. We have said all along that there must be a standalone offence and we were delighted that this has now been accepted by ministers."

"Zach is my hero and always will be. I am delighted that at the age of 11 years old, he is on the verge of changing the law. I ask the Government to draft this offence as a matter of urgency."

Latest updates

Minister promises trolls who target people with epilepsy could face prison

Today (Tuesday 19 April 2022), the Online Safety Bill will have its second reading in the House of Commons. This is a chance for MPs to debate this most important piece of legislation in the internet age. The Epilepsy Society is pleased to have the support of Minister Chris Philp in backing our Zach’s Law campaign to tackle internet trolls who target people with epilepsy in order to trigger seizures.