#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.
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.— Epilepsy Society (@epilepsysociety) June 21, 2022
A huge thanks to @kimleadbeater for ensuring that the voice of Zach - was heard 💜 pic.twitter.com/FuxixqECeH
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 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.
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.
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.
Fantastic and powerful questioning of @nickpickles from Twitter by @dean4watford at yesterday's @OnlineSafetyCom. Why is Twitter not acting right now to stop flashing images being sent by malicious trolls? #ZachsLaw #OnlineSafetyBill pic.twitter.com/gfxlw14yLL— Epilepsy Society (@epilepsysociety) October 29, 2021
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."
Amid ongoing turmoil in Westminster, one policy unites MPs from across the political divide: Zach's Law.
It was a major win in parliament today for our Zach's Law campaign, when Minister Chris Philp gave his unequivocal commitment to introduce a stand-alone offence to tackle internet trolls who maliciously target people with epilepsy.
Much to our delight - and surprise - last week saw the Epilepsy Society win two awards in just three days for our #ZachsLaw campaign.
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.
All of us at the Epilepsy Society are delighted to have been shortlisted for a prestigious campaigning award.
The Epilepsy Society is disappointed that Zach’s Law was not included in the first reading of the Online Safety Bill in Parliament yesterday. However, we are hopeful that the new offence to protect people with epilepsy from internet trolls will be included at a later stage in the legislative process.
MPs who have been supportive of Zach's Law argue that there is still more to do in tightening the draft online safety laws.
In a landmark report, MPs and peers are urging the government to introduce a new offence – Zach’s Law – to protect people with epilepsy from malicious posts designed to cause seizures.
Bristol-based innovation agency, Gravitywell, have developed technology to teach a piece of artificial intelligence (AI) how to detect and prevent the spread of flashing images on social media that could trigger seizures.
After more than 18 months of campaigning by the Epilepsy Society, a senior director at Twitter has given MPs his word that they will put a stop to flashing images that could pose a danger to people with photosensitive epilepsy on the social media platform.
Ten-year-old epilepsy campaigner, Zach Eagling, was honoured at a prestigious charity awards ceremony in central London in September 2021.
The Epilepsy Society is encouraging people affected by epilepsy to submit their views on online safety to an important parliamentary committee.
We are incredibly proud to announce that 10-year-old Zach Eagling – the figurehead of our Zach’s Law campaign – has been shortlisted as an Unsung Hero in the Third Sector Excellence Awards.
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.
The Epilepsy Society has welcomed the publication of a new Bill which aims to promote online safety, but we believe more needs to be done to protect people with epilepsy from internet trolling.
Footballers are putting up a united front alongside people with epilepsy as they ask Prince William, president of the Football Association, for his support in tackling internet trolls.
The Government has promised that Ofcom will have “a suite of enforcement powers” to tackle online abuse against people with epilepsy.
We are thrilled to see that the Daily Express is today (19 February 2021) backing our Zach’s Law campaign to bring to justice internet trolls who send flashing images to people with epilepsy in order to trigger seizures.
Epilepsy Society welcomes tough financial penalties on social media companies who fail to protect users
A Government decision to impose tough financial penalties on social media companies that do not safeguard their users, has been welcomed by the Epilepsy Society.
Epilepsy Society welcomes the news that TikTok is introducing a new feature that filters photosensitive videos. This is a significant step in helping to safeguard users with epilepsy.
This was the joyful moment when nine-year-old Zach Eagling crossed the finishing line to complete his #twopointsix challenge, raising a staggering £11,500 for the Epilepsy Society.
Criminal Law Commissioner, Professor Penney Lewis, has warned that anyone who sends flashing images to people with epilepsy, provoking a seizure, could potentially be guilty of an offence such as assault causing actual bodily harm.
Epilepsy Society welcomes new proposals from the Law Commission to reform the law and better protect people from online harm. The news follows an ongoing campaign by the charity to make it a criminal offence to target people with epilepsy with malicious posts designed to trigger seizures.
As social media continues to play an increasingly large role in modern life, this can bring with it extra challenges for people with epilepsy, especially for those who have photosensitive epilepsy. Here are some simple steps you can take to make using social media a safer experience.
The GIF library GIPHY have taken prompt action to reduce the risk for people with photosensitive epilepsy online, following Epilepsy Society’s concerns about harmful content in the library.
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.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has made a firm commitment to raise our concerns about malicious tweets designed to provoke seizures in people with photosensitive epilepsy, with Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Oliver Dowden.
UK charity sees worst ever cyber bullying attack on Twitter as eight-year-old boy with epilepsy and cerebral palsy is targeted.
Epilepsy Society has once again called on the Government to safeguard people with photosensitive epilepsy online, by including them in their Online Harms Bill.
Epilepsy Society is calling on the Government to safeguard people with photosensitive epilepsy online by regulating flashing images that could induce a seizure.