Surfing the internet

Staying safe on the internet with photosensitive epilepsy

Today (6 February 2024) is Safer Internet Day which aims to raise awareness and make a safer and better internet for all, and especially children and young people.

The internet and in particular social media are now ingrained in our daily lives. There probably won’t be a day that goes by where you are online or scrolling through social media.

However, this can bring challenges for people living with epilepsy, in particular those living with photosensitive epilepsy.

Photosensitive epilepsy affects around 3% of people who have epilepsy and is when someone has a seizure straightaway when exposed to a visual trigger.

This could be a flashing or flickering light, or certain high contrasting patterns.

We have seen constant examples of videos and GIFs shared on social media platforms which have the potential to trigger seizures in people with photosensitive epilepsy, if they contain flashing imagery at a certain frequency, or certain animated patterns.

Personally, I don’t have epilepsy but having seen these types of flashing imagery videos it is uncomfortable to look at, especially when they appear without warning e.g. on a social newsfeed.

There are ways though that you can minimise your online risk and enjoy the benefits of surfing the internet and social media as safely as possible.


Turning off auto-play on social media

‘Auto-play’ means when videos and GIFs on social media platforms begin playing automatically when you scroll past or view content.

For example, when someone you follow has posted a video that you have been tagged in.

Switching off the auto-play feature can be a good way to make social media safer and prevent you from watching videos which contain flashing imagery or animated patterns.

Also, most smartphones allow you to disable video auto-play in all apps.


Adjust your privacy settings

Adjusting your privacy settings on your social media accounts can be another way to reduce the risk of being exposed to unwanted content that you may be tagged in or sent in a direct message.

These options are available on X (formerly known as Twitter) in the settings and privacy section.

There are also several settings that you can adjust to make your account more private on Facebook.

It is possible though on Instagram for videos with flashing imagery being sent via Instagram Direct message.

There is no way to disable this feature, however it is best to always take care when opening an Instagram Direct message from an Instagram user you do not know.

This can be made easier if you have a private account, as messages from people who do not follow you will appear in ‘Message requests’ rather than your main inbox.

Making your account private also means that any new followers will need to request to follow you first before they can view your pictures and videos.


Blocking and reporting users

Blocking users means they can no longer access your posts or tag you in their posts.

Also, usually you won’t be able to see their account content without first ‘unblocking’ them.

If you are targeted by harmful content, you may also wish to ‘report’ the harmful post, if it is safe for you to do so.

This will send a report to the social media platform for their safety team to review and can in some instances result in the post being removed or the user being suspended from the platform.


Adjusting the features on your browser

When browsing the wider Internet outside of social media, you may also wish to adjust your settings so that videos on other websites do not auto-play.

More information about photosensitive epilepsy can be found in our factsheet.