The world today seems to revolve around the Internet. Few people can go an entire day, or even a few hours, without heading onto the web to look up a fact, watch a video or check their social networks. Most people never imagine that going online could actually cause an epileptic seizure, but there are some hidden dangers that do crop up from time to time. Take the recent example that occurred on Twitter and Vine early in July, 2015.
What Happened With Twitter?
@TwitterUK launched an advertising campaign called #DiscoverMusic to promote new musical artists using six second looping ads on the Vine platform. While advertising to help new artists gain traction is certainly a good thing, the actual content of these ads was the source of the problem. The videos were a loop of bright flashing colors and the design of the advertisement had the potential to produce seizures in individuals who have photosensitive epilepsy.
Photosensitive epilepsy, or PSE, is a type of epilepsy where seizures are triggered via various types of visual stimuli. These could include things such as regular moving patterns or flashing lights, which was exactly what these ads were. The exact nature of what will cause a seizure can and does vary between patients, but the bright flashing lights and patterns do seem to be a trigger for many people. Currently, more than 65 million people around the world have been diagnosed with photosensitive epilepsy. The Mayo Clinic believes that around 1 out of every 26 people in the United States alone will develop a seizure disorder of some type.
Twitter ran two different ads for #DiscoverMusic that used these techniques never realizing there was a problem with the ads. The ads were up for 18 hours before Twitter pulled them after receiving a request from Epilepsy Action, a group dedicated to helping those who suffer from the condition. Their CEO, Simon Wigglesworth, told the BBC in an interview that "Eighty seven people are diagnosed with epilepsy every day and that first seizure can often come out of nowhere."
The BBC also consulted with the Advertising Standards Authority about the issue. Their response was that “Marketing communications should not include visual effects or techniques that are likely to adversely affect members of the public with photosensitive epilepsy.”
In addition, the ads were set to autoplay. That meant that when people went to Twitter and these advertisements came up, the video would start playing without any interaction from the user. People did not even have a choice as to whether they saw the video, and there was no epilepsy trigger warning on the advertisement.
The Responsibility of Marketing and Media
This latest incident proves that many in the marketing and media worlds still do not know much about photosensitive epilepsy, and they don't always understand just how much their products and videos have the potential to affect people who suffer from the condition. Epilepsy Action stated that they would be happy to work with Twitter in the future to ensure that the ads they created are safe for people with photosensitive epilepsy. By spreading awareness of the condition, it should help content creators of all types and at all levels to ensure they are not inadvertently creating ads, films, games, and other content that could pose a risk to people.
Poll Question for Photosensitive Epileptics: Has any advertisement (online or television), film or game triggered a seizure for you?
Tell us about it! Click below.