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Twitter bans animated images to protect users with epilepsy

Twitter has announced that it will stop animating APNG files posted by users so that people with sensitivity to motion and flashing imagery can feel more confident when using the service.

The decision comes just days after the Epilepsy Foundation revealed that its Twitter account had been the target of an attack that used flashing images in a bid to trigger seizures.

Exposure to flashing lights and particular visual patterns can cause seizures in about 3% of those with epilepsy, according to the Epilepsy Foundation. “Photosensitive epilepsy,” as it’s known, is more common among children and adolescents.

The ability to configure Twitter to prevent videos and GIFs from autoplaying allows those with photosensitive epilepsy to protect themselves from flashing media, whether it’s been tweeted innocently or as part of a malicious act. But Twitter Support said this week that Animated PNG files are able to bypass Twitter’s autoplay settings, so it’s now preventing them from animating when posted.

Twitter said it had made the decision “for the safety of people with sensitivity to motion and flashing imagery, including those with epilepsy.”

As most people use GIFs to post animated images, Twitter’s move to stop APNGs from animating should cause minimal disruption among its community.

The Epilepsy Foundation said last week that it had filed a formal criminal complaint in connection with the attack on its Twitter account. It’s not clear if the flashing media directed at its account triggered any seizures among those who viewed it.

‘We want people to feel safe’

Responding to the incident, a Twitter spokesperson told Digital Trends: “We want people to feel safe on our service. We provide people on Twitter with the option of preventing media from autoplaying in their timelines, as well as prevent any GIFs from appearing when someone searches for ‘seizure’ in GIF search.”

It added that whenever it finds an account that is dedicated to causing offline harm, it is permanently suspended.

Flashing images on Twitter have been known to cause seizures in those with photosensitive epilepsy. In a high-profile case in 2016, for example, Maryland resident John Rayne Rivello was accused of using the microblogging platform to send a flashing image to American journalist and author Kurt Eichenwald, which had the effect of triggering a seizure. Rivello is due to appear in court in January 2020 when he will reportedly plead guilty to aggravated assault.

Want to turn off autoplay for videos and GIFs in Twitter? Tap on your profile picture, then on Settings and privacy. Next, tap Data usage and then Video autoplay. Finally, select Never.

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