Twitter decided to ban animated PNG image files from its platform. The action was taken after trolls hijacked the Epilepsy Foundation’s handle and proceeded to send potentially seizure-inducing images to epileptic and photo-sensitive people.

A bug made the attack possible. The bug allowed users to bypass Twitter’s autoplay settings and allow several animated images in a single tweet. This was possible when the GIFs were in PNG file format. Hence, when the site discovered the bug it decided to remove PNG support altogether. “We want everyone to have a safe experience on Twitter,” the company said in a tweet on Monday. “PNGs were fun, but they don’t respect autoplay settings, so we’re removing the ability to add them to tweets. This is for the safety of people with sensitivity to motion and flashing imagery, including those with epilepsy,” Twitter added.

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Twitter also mentioned that PNGs used up a lot of data and often caused app-crashing scenarios. Additionally, Twitter said that it will “look into building a similar feature”. The new feature will, according to Twitter, be better for individuals and their Twitter experience.

The Twitter attack on the Epilepsy Foundation

The attack took place in the first week of November. The foundation’s Twitter handle and various hashtags were bombarded with several videos and GIFs containing flashing lights. “Flashing lights at certain intensities or certain visual patterns can trigger seizures in those with photosensitive epilepsy,” said Jacqueline French, chief medical and innovation officer at the Epilepsy Foundation.

Further, she added that “while the population of those with photosensitive epilepsy is small, the impact can be quite serious. Many are not even aware they have photo-sensitivity until they have a seizure”. The attack has identified 30 separate Twitter accounts. The foundation has since filed criminal complaints against the hackers and are currently working with law enforcing agencies to track down and punish them. It is not clear how many people the attack affected.

 (With inputs from IANS)

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