Reporter Blames Internet Troll’s Tweet for Severe Seizure

BALTIMORE (CN) — Saying an internet troll caused him to have a seizure, a Newsweek reporter claims in a federal complaint that he was tagged in a post on Twitter that included a strobe animation specifically chosen to trigger his epilepsy.

Kurt Eichenwald (Photo via Twitter)

Kurt Eichenwald, a former New York Times investigative reporter whose 2000 book “The Informant” was developed into a Matt Damon movie of the same name, brought the complaint on April 24 in Maryland.

The lawsuit comes about a month after the indictment of Eichenwald’s suspected online attacker, John Rivello, in Dallas.

Eichenwald, who was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2000 and 2002, is himself a resident of Dallas, but he filed his complaint in Baltimore, saying jurisdiction is appropriate there because Rivello lives in Salisbury, Maryland.

“You deserve a seizure for your posts,” an account with the handle @jew_goldstein wrote on Dec. 15, 2016. The tweet, a copy of which is included in Eichenwald’s April 24 complaint, included a rapidly flashing strobe-light GIF, short for graphic interchange.

It is unclear from the complaint which posts inspired the seizure-inducing reply, but Eichenwald notes that his name and his outspoken criticism of President Donald Trump have made him a regular target of online threats with an anti-Semitic bend.

Indeed an article by Eichenwald titled “How Trump Supporters Attack Journalists” appeared just this past October in Newsweek.

“One Trump fan mentioned he knew which schools my children attended, and correctly named them,” Eichenwald wrote of his own experiences. “Topping it off, some Trump fans have even gone after one of my sons online, although he knew enough to immediately block them.”

Noting that he has always been public about his epilepsy to serve as an advocate for those with the condition, Eichenwald says information about his health is readily available on the internet.

An article Eichenwald wrote about his epilepsy appeared in Newsweek back in August, with the title “Sean Hannity: Apologize to Those With Epilepsy, or Bum in Hell.”

Eichenwald says he was subjected to Rivello’s seizure-inducing tweet when he clicked a notification on Twitter that automatically loaded replies to his posts.

“At the time Mr. Rivello sent the Twitter message, he knew that Mr. Eichenwald had epilepsy, knew that a strobe image flashing at rapid speed was likely to cause Mr. Eichenwald to have a severe seizure, and intended to cause precisely that result,” the complaint states. “Just like a terrorist who mails a bomb, or an envelope filled with anthrax, Mr. Rivello knew and intended his Twitter message with a flashing strobe light would cause serious harm-and perhaps even death-to Mr. Eichenwald.”

Rivello is allegedly not the first to target Eichenwald’s condition.

In his October article for Newsweek, Eichenwald described how he quickly dropped his iPad when a strobe light began flashing in a video that a Twitter user called “Mike’s Deplorable AF” had linked in a post about his epilepsy.

Many Republican supporters took up the “Deplorable” monicker as a rallying cry after Hillary Clinton used the term “basket of deplorables” on the campaign trail to deride Trump’s popularity among white-nationalists and other hate groups.

Prior to the “severe seizure” Rivello induced in December, according to the complaint Eichenwald had been able to control his condition with a medication regimen. He says he is now at an increased risk of more seizures.

Including a picture of the tweet in his complaint, Eichenwald notes that his wife posted a warning to Rivello after witnessing the seizure he caused.

“This is his wife, you caused a seizure,” she wrote. “I have your information and have called the police to report the assault.”

Police have collected a trove of evidence linking Rivello to the post and documenting his intent to harm, according to the complaint.

“I hope this sends him into a seizure,” Rivello allegedly told one Twitter user in a direct message on Dec. 16, the day after he sent the strobe-light tweet.

“I know he has epilepsy,” Rivello wrote in another quoted in the complaint.

“Spammed this at [Eichenwald] let’s see if he dies,” another post quoted in the complaint says.

Eichenwald’s Twitter handle appears in the last direct message, in which Rivello allegedly says, “If l haven’t been banned yet check my feed when you wake up.”

The complaint notes that friends of Rivello’s on Twitter also applauded “JR” on the seizure-inducing post, and that a search warrant found the strobe GIF on Rivello’s iCloud account.

Eichenwald says the iCloud account also links Rivello to the vandalism of his Wikipedia page. 

The increased medication dosage that Eichenwald must take because of his December seizure has a severe impact on cognitive and motor functions, according to the complaint.

A practicing Episcopalian, Eichenwald says the regimen caused him to spend Christmas sedated, relying on his family to perform routine tasks.

The reporter wants damages, alleging assault, battery and other claims. He is represented by Steven Lieberman of Rothwell, Figg, Ernst & Manbeck.

The Washington firm did not return a call requesting comment, and contact information for Rivello is not publicly available. Twitter has suspended the account @jew_goldstein.

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