Cyber-attackers used strobing GIFs to trigger seizures on epilepsy Twitter page

They leveraged the Epilepsy Foundation’s account to reach thousands of people.

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On Monday, the Epilepsy Foundation released a statement about its criminal complaints regarding a series of attacks on Twitter. The foundation’s username and hashtags were used during National Epilepsy Awareness Month to surface strobing images to those with photosensitive epilepsy. Twitter says it is taking steps to prevent this from happening again.

Why this is so dangerous — Intentionally harming anyone is already a terrible offense, but photosensitive epilepsy is most common in children and young adults. At least 3.4 million people in the U.S. have epilepsy and 102,000 of them are particularly sensitive to strobing lights.

“While the population of those with photosensitive epilepsy is small, the impact can be quite serious,” Jacqueline French, M.D., chief medical and innovation officer of the Epilepsy Foundation and professor of Neurology at NYU Langone Health's Comprehensive Epilepsy Center, said in the statement. “Many are not even aware they have photosensitivity until they have a seizure.”

To make matters worse, targeting epileptic individuals during their awareness months exposed these attacks to a wider range of people. The Epilepsy Foundation filed complaints about at least 30 attacks, but the full scope is unknown, according to CNET. This mass attack seems to copy a similar assault that induced an eight-minute seizure in journalist Kurt Eichenwald in 2016.

What’s Twitter doing about it? — A Twitter spokesperson told CNET that the platform doesn’t show any results for GIF searches for “seizure” and that it offers the ability to disable autoplay for media. They also said any accounts inflicting harm would be permanently suspended and the company is “exploring additional options to help protect the people on Twitter from this type of abuse.”