In a first-of-its-kind case in which physical harm was inflicted via a tweet, the FBI arrested a 29-year-old Maryland man for allegedly tweeting a strobe GIF to an epileptic reporter and inducing a seizure. John Rayne Rivello is being charged with criminal cyberstalking with the intent to kill or cause bodily harm, according to the New York Times, and the motive had to do with Rivello disagreeing with reporter Kurt Eichenwald's political views and negative reporting about President Trump.
We first learned of the case in December when Eichenwald, who lives in Dallas, filed a petition in a Texas court to get Twitter to reveal the identity of the user who sent the offending tweet. Eichenwald said that opening the animated image caused him to have a seizure, and he was subsequently bed-ridden for 24 hours. The user who sent the tweet used the handle @jew_goldstein and the pseudonym (((Ari Goldstein))).
Per the Times, "Investigators found evidence of the plan to attack Mr. Eichenwald from a search of Mr. Rivello’s Twitter account," including direct messages to other users in which Rivello said plainly “I hope this sends him into a seizure.”
As Ars Technica notes, strobe images have been known to induce seizures in epileptics, and there was previously a case in 2008 in which hackers posted strobe GIFs on an epilepsy support message board and induced headaches and seizures in some users.
Eichenwald’s attorney, Steven Lieberman, tells Newsweek, "What [this person] did with his Twitter message was no different from someone sending a bomb in the mail or sending an envelope filled with Anthrax spores. It wasn’t the content of the communication that was intended to persuade somebody or make them feel badly about themselves; this was an electronic communication that was designed to have a physical effect.”
It's unclear how the FBI ultimately identified and located Rivello, but he will now be transferred to Dallas to appear in federal court.
The trolling continued well after the December 15 incident, and Eichenwald says that more than 40 users have sent him strobe images since this case was first publicized.