Hope for Zach's Law to 'put an end' to trolling

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Media caption,
Claire Keer and her son, Zach Eagling, said they wanted to "protect a huge community of people with epilepsy from these [online] attacks"

The mother of a nine-year-old boy with cerebral palsy targeted by trolls during a charity walk hopes a new law would "put an end" to online abuse.

Zach Eagling, who also has epilepsy, was sent messages that trigger seizures while completing 130 laps of his garden without his walking frame in June.

He and his mum Claire Keer are campaigning for online abusers to be prosecuted under Zach's law.

The government said it would introduce new laws to protect people online.

The youngster, from Liversedge, West Yorkshire, who was inspired by Captain Tom Moore and has raised nearly £12,000 for the Epilepsy Society, was sent the "traumatic and shocking" messages, which contained strobing imagery, when his mother posted his fundraising efforts on social media, Ms Keer said.

Image caption,
Zach Eagling started his challenge in May and competed 130 laps of his garden, without using a walking frame, on his ninth birthday in June

She addressed representatives from the Law Commission, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), the Epilepsy Society, experts and MP Dame Cheryl Gillan at a meeting on Wednesday.

Ms Keer told them the online abuse was "absolutely revolting" and had caused emotional distress.

"It was quite scary the volume and speed at which these people could send these attacks," Ms Keer said in the online meeting.

"What we're campaigning for is to help the entire community of people who have epilepsy."

She said they wanted "to put an end to this" and for trolls to be "held accountable for their actions" by including Zach's Law in the proposed Online Harms Bill.

Image caption,
The meeting was held online over Zoom on Wednesday and organised by the Epilepsy Society, which said it had been highlighting the issue since 2018

The campaign and meeting was organised by the Epilepsy Society, which said seizures for some epilepsy sufferers could be fatal.

Chief Executive Clare Pelham said the society was inundated with "over 200 of these flashing messages in 48 hours" in May.

"These people are sometimes called trolls but I call them criminals and bullies because they're assaulting people through a mask of anonymity, just as surely as if they came up to them in the street and punched them in the face."

The Online Harms Bill is seen as a potential tool to hold websites accountable if they fail to tackle harmful content online.

DCMS said it was due to publish final plans on its proposals later in the year.

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