US man held for sending flashing tweet to epileptic writer

A man accused of sending a flashing image to a writer in order to trigger an epileptic seizure has been arrested, the US justice department says.

John Rayne Rivello, 29, of Maryland, sent Kurt Eichenwald an animated image with a flashing light on Twitter in December, causing the seizure.

He has been charged with criminal cyber stalking and could face a 10-year sentence, the New York Times reports.

“You deserve a seizure for your post,” he is alleged to have written.

Mr Eichenwald is known to have epilepsy. He is a senior writer at Newsweek magazine, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and a best-selling author of books including The Informant.

‘Let’s see if he dies’

Investigators found that Mr Rivello had sent messages to other Twitter users about Mr Eichenwald and a plan to attack him virtually, including one that read: “I hope this sends him into a seizure”.

Tweet ’caused’ epileptic seizure

“Spammed this at [victim] let’s see if he dies,” another message read, according to the justice department.

Investigators found a screenshot on his iCloud account of an altered Wikipedia page for Mr Eichenwald, falsely listing his date of death as 16 December, a day after the image was sent.

He had also researched epilepsy seizure triggers on the epilepsy.com website.

The Twitter message was no different from “a bomb sent in the mail or anthrax sent in an envelope,” Steven Lieberman, a lawyer for Mr Eichenwald, told the New York Times. “It triggers a physical effect.”

Mr Rivello will have his case heard in Texas, where his alleged victim is based.

The justice department did not say what motivated the attack, though reports have speculated that it may have been related to Mr Eichenwald’s frequent criticism of US President Donald Trump on Twitter.

Mr Eichenwald is reported to have suffered the effects of the seizure for several weeks. He tweeted on Friday that more than 40 people had sent him “strobes” after learning about the case.

After the attack was reported in December, Stefano Seri, a professor of neurophysiology at Aston University in the UK, said the material in the tweet must have been carefully constructed.

“Abrupt changes in light intensity, or luminance, can trigger seizures. The most sensitive range is about 15-25 flashes per second,” he said.

“The picture would need to occupy most of the visual field. It would take some very sick people to do this, but technically, it is possible.

“Modern LED screens are not as provocative as older ones. It takes a very carefully designed stimulus to induce a seizure,” Prof Seri added.


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BBC News – Technology