Maryland man behind strobe-light tweet charged

The man had sent a tweet containing strobe lights which led to a reporter’s epileptic seizure.


US – John Raye Rivello, 29, has been charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, according to Brittany Dunn with the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office. Prosecutors claim that Kurt Eichenwald, a Newsweek reporter, was targeted as Rivello was prejudiced against Jews.

Eichenwald, who had been cynical of President Donald Trump, was at his home office in Dallas on 15 December 2016 when he opened a Twitter message sent to him by a user with the handle @jew-goldstein. A flashing image appeared and triggered his seizure. Eichenwald has been public about his condition of epilepsy.

In an epileptic seizure, other neurons fail to prevent certain brain cells called excitatory neurons from firing repeatedly. Epileptic seizures vary as well, instead of the common notion of it being defined as losing consciousness and jerking of muscles. The area of a person’s brain suffering from seizures affects the type of epilepsy that he or she has.

“We consider the message like a bomb or sending anthrax to someone in the mail.”

– Eichenwald’s attorney, Timothy Perkins in an interview with CNN


According to the allegations in an affidavit that was unsealed, Rivello knew of Eichenwald’s epilepsy as he had sent direct messages to other Twitter users that included “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 found other evidence, such as screen shots of a list of commonly reported epilepsy seizure triggers and a story from a Dallas news site about Eichenwald’s efforts to warrant Twitter to trace the sender. According to authorities, an altered Wikipedia page for Eichenwald to display a fake obituary with a death date of 16 December had been discovered in Rivello’s iCloud as well.

Eichenwald’s lawyer told The New York Times that he was paralysed for days, lost sensation in one hand, and had difficulty speaking for weeks. Yet, Eichenwald expressed in his Newsweek article that he was lucky he had been standing when he opened the message, as the immediate release of the iPad from his grip caused it to fall face down on the bathroom floor.

Such an incident whereby psychological instead of physical harm was intended is uncommon among cyberstalking cases.

Eichenwald said that he has received messages from 40 more accounts that contained strobe lights, and he has handed their information to the FBI.

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