A Maryland man has been arrested after sending a journalist a seizure-inducing GIF. The 29-year-old named John Rayne Rivello used the screen name “Ari Goldstein” and the Twitter handle @jew_goldstein to send a strobing light message saying, “you deserve a seizure.” The account no longer exists.
Kurt Eichenwald is a senior writer for Newsweek. His most notable accomplishment is writing the book The Informant; Matt Damon starred in the 2009 film adaptation. Eichenwald was also very vocal about his criticisms of President Donald J. Trump throughout the presidential campaign.
On 15 December 2016, Eichenwald received a message on Twitter shortly after appearing on Tucker Carlson Tonight. The image included a strobing light that caused him to convulse because it triggered an epileptic seizure. Eichenwald had been very open about his battle with epilepsy. This was not the first time someone had tried to cause Eichenwald to have a seizure by using an image, but it is the first time that it actually worked. After recovering, Eichenwald’s Twitter account sent out a message intended for the sender saying, “This is his wife, you caused a seizure. I have your information and have called the police to report the assault.”
The next day, Eichenwald tweeted that he would be working with lawyers and law enforcement to find the person behind the message, and would be pressing charges. He wrote, “Last night, for the second time, a deplorable aware I have epilepsy tweeted a strobe at me with the message ‘you deserve a seizure’ on it. It worked. This is not going to happen again. My wife is terrified. I am … disgusted.” Since the December incident, more than 40 other people have sent similar strobing images to Eichenwald. (RELATED: Get more news like this at Twisted.news)
An affidavit from the FBI shows that Rivello had admitted to several other Twitter users via direct message that he was aware Eichenwald had epilepsy. He said he hoped his GIF would provoke an episode. A search warrant also found that Rivello took a screenshot of a Wikipedia page that had been altered to show that Eichenwald died on the day of the Twitter interaction, even though it had been reported that Eichenwald had in fact survived the attack. It is unclear who altered the page.
Rivello is being charged under a federal cyber-stalking statute, and will appear in federal court in Dallas on Monday.
Eichenwald’s attorney, Steven Lieberman, told Newsweek, “What Mr. Rivello did with his Twitter message was no different from someone sending a bomb in the mail or sending an envelope filled with Anthrax spores.”
Some forms of epilepsy are more prone to being affected by strobing lights than others. For years, the epilepsy community has been trying to figure out how not to be caught off guard by this potential “weapon.”
In 1997, a Pokémon episode was said to have sent nearly 700 Japanese children to the hospital. About a decade ago, hackers attacked an epilepsy support message board with flashing animations and triggered headaches and seizures in some users.