On December 15th, shortly after appearing on 'Tucker Carlson Tonight,' Vanity Fair contributing editor and Newsweek senior writer Kurt Eichenwald checked his Twitter. What he saw sent him into a seizure.
Eichenwald, an epileptic, had been targeted by a Twitter user who messaged the journalist with a strobing .gif designed to trigger a seizure. In case the intent wasn't clear, the online assailant, under the account @jew_goldstein, included the message "You deserve a seizure." On Friday, FBI officials arrested the man suspected of being behind the attack.
Online Harassment Taken to a Whole New Level
The FBI arrested John Rivello on Friday morning, accusing him of sending the seizure-inducing tweet. The 29-year-old Maryland man was allegedly behind the @jew_goldstein account. (Rivello, of course, is not named Goldstein, nor is he Jewish. He's a member of a Methodist church, Newsweek reports.)
According to the criminal complaint, Rivello made his intentions more than clear on Twitter, sending direct messages to other users saying, "I hope this sends him into a seizure," "Spammed this at [victim] let's see if he dies," and, "I know he has epilepsy." A search warrant also revealed that Rivello had researched epilepsy seizure triggers online before sending his tweet.
This wasn't the first time that Eichenwald had been targeted by online trolls. In October, he wrote about how a Trump supporter called Mike had targeted him following a report on potential financial conflicts of interest:
In his tweet, which has since been deleted, Mike made mention of my seizures and included a small video. It contained images of Pepe the Frog, a cartoon character that has been identified by the Anti-Defamation League as a hate symbol. I was carrying my iPad, looking at the still image on the video and, without thinking, touched the PLAY button.
The video was some sort of strobe light, with flashing circles and images of Pepe flying toward the screen. It's what's called epileptogenic -- something that triggers seizures. Fortunately, since I was standing, I simply dropped my iPad to the ground the second I realized what Mike had done. It landed face down on the bathroom floor.
Unlike Mike's attempt, Rivello's tweet worked. Eichenwald says he's since been targeted with similar strobing images by more than 40 other Twitter users.
Rivello has been charged with violating a federal cyberstalking law. That law criminalizes the intentional use of "any interactive computer service or electronic communication service or electronic communication system of interstate commerce" in a "course of conduct" that places another in reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury or causes substantial emotional distress. Rivello could face up to 10 years in prison.