People with epilepsy suffering seizures as Twitter users target victims with flashing images

Messages include hashtags such as #seizures and #epilepsy, making those looking for online support more likely to land on them

Colin Drury
Saturday 16 May 2020 12:25 BST
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At least two people have suffered seizures since start of apparently coordinated campaign
At least two people have suffered seizures since start of apparently coordinated campaign (AP)

At least two people have suffered seizures after more than 200 messages and tweets containing flashing gifs were sent to the Epilepsy Society and its supporters in the space of just a few days.

The missives – seemingly coordinated by six different users – included concealed flickering strobes and psychedelic spirals in an apparent bid to induce attacks.

They included hashtags such as #seizures and #epilepsy so those looking for online support were likely to land on them.

Police say they are now investigating the messages as hate incidents.

Clare Pelham, chief executive of the Epilepsy Society, said: “During the current covid-19 pandemic, we are all having to live our lives online to protect ourselves from an invisible enemy.

“It is unthinkable that people who hide behind fictitious Twitter handles are releasing their own digital viruses as some form of unimaginable entertainment.”

She said that one victim had told the charity: “I inadvertently viewed one of the posts and it triggered a simple partial seizure for me. This is not a joke. It is a physical assault on people struggling with epilepsy.”

Thames Valley Police confirmed it was investigating the tweets as a hate incident under the Malicious Communications Act, the Guardian reports.

A spokesperson for the National Police Chiefs’ Council said: “This was an awful incident in which people with epilepsy were targeted on social media on the basis of their difference, which we utterly condemn. We’re pleased an investigation is underway with Thames Valley police and would encourage anyone else affected to report to their local force.”

Twitter took down the posts and suspended the accounts concerned when the alarm was raised by the Epilepsy Society.

The company has previously said it is working on ways it can protect sufferers being targeted through the platform after a wave of such attacks in the US last year. Yet one apparently simple solution – to make users opt in to automatic playing of media rather than having to opt out – has not been enacted.

A spokesperson said: “We want people to feel safe on our service. We provide people on Twitter with the option of preventing media from auto playing in their timelines, as well as prevent any gifs from appearing when someone searches for ‘seizure’ in the gif search.”

They added: “We’re exploring additional options to help protect people on Twitter from this type of media.”

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