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Twitter Trolls Target People with Epilepsy Using Strobing Images

Dominique Adams

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three young friends watching a smartphone

About 20,000 people in the UK live with epilepsy and it is more common among children and teenagers. 

Attackers hijacked the Epilepsy Foundation’s Twitter handle and hashtag to target people with epilepsy to induce seizures.

The US charity said that those behind the attacks had posted strobing and flashing Gifs and videos, which can cause seizures in people with photosensitive epilepsy, to deliberately cause seizures.

The foundation said it has made a criminal complaint and requested an investigation.

Legal advocacy director Allison Nichol said: “These attacks are no different than a person carrying a strobe light into a convention of people with epilepsy and seizures, with the intention of inducing seizures and thereby causing significant harm to the participants.

“The fact that these attacks came during National Epilepsy Awareness Month only highlights their reprehensible nature.

“The foundation is fully cooperating with law enforcement and intends to utilise all available avenues to ensure that those responsible are held fully accountable.”

The foundation said it had identified at least 30 different accounts that had participated in the action.

About 20,000 people in the UK live with the condition and it is more common among children and teenagers. 3% of people with the condition are photosensitive, which makes them more susceptible to flashing lights at certain intensities or certain visual patterns.

“While the population of those with photosensitive epilepsy is small, the impact can be quite serious. Many are not even aware they have photosensitivity until they have a seizure,” Jacqueline French, chief medical and innovation officer of the Epilepsy Foundation said in a statement.

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TV programmes are required by Ofcom, the UK’s TV regulator, that they display flashing-light warnings.

In April this year, the UK’s Epilepsy Society called on the government to compel social media companies to display similar warnings because a number of people were having seizures flashing images on platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.

However, the society noted that modern smartphone, computer and TV screens were much less likely to trigger seizures due to their faster screen-refresh rate.

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Dominique Adams

Staff Writer, DIGIT

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