A Maryland man was recently charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and violating federal cyberstalking laws after allegedly sending a tweet that caused a well-known journalist to suffer a seizure. Considered the first case of its kind, the arrest and impending trial exhibits crucial implications for those who cyber bully and “troll” fellow social media users.
Kurt Eichenwald is an author and journalist who has been incredibly vocal about his disdain for current United States President, Donald Trump. The same night he received the offending twitter message, he had visited Tucker Carlson's Fox News show to provide an explanation of a tweet he posted claiming that President Trump was once institutionalized in a medical hospital. The interview quickly became heated when Carlson asked if he's “really practicing journalism.” There is no current evidence proving Trump was ever institutionalized.
One of these people was John Rayne Rivello. On the same night the show aired, Rivello sent a tweet of a flashing animated image known as a GIF, that included the message, “YOU DESERVE A SEIZURE FOR YOUR POSTS.” Immediately after watching the GIF, Eichenwald suffered an epileptic seizure that endured for nearly eight minutes. He reportedly experienced “a complete loss of his bodily functions and mental faculty” that lasted for months after the incident. According to Eichenwald's criminal complaint, he had been “fully incapacitated for several days and had a difficulty speaking during that time.
Those who followed Eichenwald knew of his public battle with epilepsy. He had wrote a column in the New York Times about how it felt to be diagnosed with the condition in 1987. Two months before this incident, the reporter had eerily wrote an article in Newsweek about people sending hateful tweets about his vulnerability to epileptic attacks. Rivello himself had sent private messages to other users about Eichenwald, including one that read, "I hope this sends him into a seizure."
Rivello was booked into a county jail in Dallas and released early after posting a $100,000 bail. The 29-year-old's twitter account consisted of him operating under the guise of Ari Goldstein, with a twitter handle @jew_goldstein that has since been suspended. Authorities state that the tweet was sent as a revengeful response to the journalist's critical coverage of the president. Since Eichenwald's attack, more than 40 tweets containing the strobe effect GIF have been sent to his account.
Attorneys claim that this may be the first time an animated image sent on social media has been legally described as a deadly weapon, making Eichenwald's situation a landmark case. Questions regarding Rivello's protection under the First Amendment have been posed, but experts say the amendment likely does not apply here. Danielle Citron, a legal scholar at the University of Maryland claims that the incident “doesn't even get in the door of the First Amendment.”
“It doesn't have expressive value… It's not contributing to the marketplace of ideas,” Citron said. It was very much like sending anthrax in an envelope to someone, or sending them a bomb in the mail.”
If you have been accused of stalking or harassing someone online, you deserve a quality defense. Call the Seattle law office of Steve Karimi at (206) 621-8777 or contact him online for a consultation.