FBI arrested man for allegedly sending seizure-causing GIF to reporter

A man accused of sending an animated GIF of a strobe light to a reporter with epilepsy was arrested and charged with criminal cyberstalking with the intent to kill or cause bodily harm.

Back on December 15, 2016, Twitter user @jew_goldstein tweeted a flashing image to Newsweek reporter Kurt Eichenwald along with the message: “YOU DESERVE A SEIZURE FOR YOUR POSTS.” Eichenwald, who has epilepsy, immediately suffered a seizure.

After his wife found him on the floor and called 911, she replied to @jew_goldstein, telling him that the tweet caused a seizure. “I have your information and have called the police to report the assault.”

On Friday, the FBI arrested 29-year-old John Rivello at his home in Maryland.

The Department of Justice, citing the affidavit, said, “evidence received pursuant to a search warrant showed Rivello’s Twitter account contained direct messages from Rivello’s account to other Twitter users concerning the victim.”

Investigators claim Rivello sent direct messages to other Twitter folks saying things like “I hope this sends him into a seizure,” “Spammed this at [victim] let’s see if he dies,” and “I know he has epilepsy.”

Investigators also claimed the search warrant turned up more evidence in Rivello’s iCloud account.

Rivello’s iCloud account contained a screenshot of a Wikipedia page for the victim, which had been altered to show a fake obituary with the date of death listed as Dec. 16, 2016. Rivello’s iCloud account also contained screen shots from epilepsy.com with a list of commonly reported epilepsy seizure triggers and from dallasobserver.com discussing the victim’s report to the Dallas Police Department and his attempt to identify the Twitter user.

The cyberstalking charge, according to the US District Attorney John Parker of Texas who is prosecuting the case, could carry a prison sentence of up to 10 years.

Steven Lieberman, Eichenwald’s attorney, told the New York Times, “This electronic message was no different than a bomb sent in the mail or anthrax sent in an envelope. It triggers a physical effect.”

Dallas News reported that the epilepsy-inducing tweet came after Eichenwald appeared “on Fox News show Tucker Carlson Tonight, where he and the host argued about each other’s biases and Eichenwald’s coverage of Donald Trump during the presidential campaign.”

After Rivello’s arrest on Friday, Eichenwald tweeted, “Identifying information about every person who sent me strobes after finding out about the assault is currently in the hands of the FBI.” He added, “More than 40 ppl sent strobes once they found out they could trigger seizures. Details of their cases are with the FBI. Stop sending them.”

Eichenwald thanked “Dallas Police, Dallas DA, US Attorney in Dallas, the FBI & the Dept of Homeland Security who all played a role in this case.”

Vivek Krishnamurthy, assistant director at Harvard Law School’s Cyberlaw Clinic, told the New York Times, “This is an interesting and unique case in that there are lots of online attacks that can have physical consequences, such as an attack on an electrical grid or the control of air traffic control. But this is distinguishable because it is a targeted physical attack that was personal, using a plain-Jane tool.”

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