Trump supporter arrested for sending seizure-inducing tweet to journalist

By Nick Whigham

The intentionally harmful image was sent to Newsweek journalist Kurt Eichenwald in what was reportedly an attempt at revenge for his critical coverage of Donald Trump. Photo / 123rf
The intentionally harmful image was sent to Newsweek journalist Kurt Eichenwald in what was reportedly an attempt at revenge for his critical coverage of Donald Trump. Photo / 123rf

An American man has been arrested for sending an animated GIF on Twitter to an epileptic journalist causing him to have a seizure, in a case that has taken cyber harassment laws into new territory.

The intentionally harmful image was sent to Newsweek journalist Kurt Eichenwald in what was reportedly an attempt at revenge for his critical coverage of Donald Trump.

The 55-year-old reporter was at his home office in Dallas on December 15 when he clicked on a Twitter message which prompted a blinding strobe light to begin flashing on his computer screen.

Eichenwald - who has openly discussed his condition - was later found by his wife convulsing on the floor.

John Rayne Rivello, 29, of Maryland has since been arrested and charged with criminal cyber stalking with the intent to kill or cause bodily harm.

He faces a possible 10 years in prison if convicted.

An investigation into the matter found Mr Rivello had bragged to other users on the social media platform about his plan to send the flashing image, saying "let's see if he dies".

An affidavit filed with the complaint said a search of Rivello's Twitter account showed he had sent other messages about Eichenwald saying "I know he has epilepsy" and "I hope this sends him into a seizure".

Authorities also found an altered Wikipedia page in Rivello's iCloud account that showed a fake obituary for Eichenwald with a death date of December 16 - the day after the image was sent.

Eichenwald's wife responded to the initial tweet, telling the sender that she had "called the police to report the assault".

Eichenwald was incapacitated for days, lost feeling in one hand and had trouble speaking for weeks after the seizure, his lawyer said.

Cybersecurity experts in the US said the incident was not the first instance in which people had used online technology in a bid to expose medically vulnerable people to injury, however it is believed to be the first case of its kind to involve criminal charges.

"This is a new era," a computer scientist at the University of Michigan, Kevin Fu told The Washington Post.

Notorious crowd-funding website typically dedicated to alt-right causes, WeSearchr, has launched a campaign to raise money for Mr Rivello's defence.

"If this goes to trial, it will redefine "trolling" and what it means to troll online. John can't go to prison for tweeting a GIF at Eichenwald," the campaign organisers wrote.

Eichenwald's lawyer Steven Lieberman said the use of a strobe light against a known epileptic was "no different than a bomb sent in the mail or anthrax sent in an envelope," according to The New York Times, where Eichenwald spent years as an investigative reporter.

Since the attack, the Newsweek journalist, who has been highly critical of Donald Trump, said that 40 additional accounts have since sent him strobe light images. He said he has passed their information to the FBI.

- news.com.au

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