Marylander Arrested for Tweet That Caused Seizure

DALLAS (CN) – A Maryland man accused of tweeting an image of a strobe light to epileptic Newsweek reporter Kurt Eichenwald and inducing a seizure was arrested Friday, Eichenwald’s lawyer said.

Attorney Steven Lieberman identified the man as John Rivello. Federal prosecutors confirmed several hours later that Rivello, 29, was arrested after being indicted on cyberstalking charges in Dallas federal court.

“What Mr. Rivello did with his Twitter message was no different from someone sending a bomb in the mail or sending an envelope filled with Anthrax spores,” Lieberman said in a statement. “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.”

Eichenwald, 55, of Dallas, sought a presuit deposition of Twitter in Dallas County District Court in December, days after the online attack. He wanted to learn the identity of Twitter user @jew_goldstein, an account that has since been suspended.

“Doe sent this image with the intent of causing a seizure, as evidences by the words Doe typed onto the strobe, ‘You deserve a seizure for your posts,’” the six-page petition stated. “Doe succeeded in his efforts to use Twitter as a means of committing assault, causing petitioner to have a seizure which led to personal injury.”

A trial judge granted Eichewald’s request to depose Twitter within days.

Federal prosecutors say they executed a search warrant and found direct messages from Rivello’s alleged Twitter account that stated, “I hope this sends him into a seizure,” “Spammed this at [victim] let’s see if he dies,” and “I know he has epilepsy.”

“Additional evidence received pursuant to a search warrant showed Rivello’s iCloud account contained a screenshot of a Wikipedia page for the victim, which had been altered to show a fake obituary with the date of death listed as Dec. 16, 2016,” prosecutors said in a statement. “Rivello’s iCloud account also contained screen shots from epilepsy.com with a list of commonly reported epilepsy seizure triggers and from dallasobserver.com discussing the victim’s report to the Dallas Police Department and his attempt to identify the Twitter user.”

Eichenwald tweeted Friday his thanks to Dallas police, Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson, U.S. Attorney General for the Northern District of Texas John Parker, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security for their help in the three month investigation.

“Identifying information about every person who sent me strobes after finding out about the assault is currently in the hands of the FBI,” Eichenwald tweeted. “More than 40 ppl sent strobes once they found out they could trigger seizures … Stop sending them.”

Lieberman declined to say how he learned of Rivello’s identity.

“We’re very gratified that the government has worked hard and promptly to make sure that the person who was responsible for this attack is held to account,” Lieberman told Newsweek. “It sends an important message that there is no free shot against journalists in the country.”