Newsweek reports that an arrest has been made in connection with a highly unusual case of Twitter trolling. Last December 15th, a Twitter user going by @jew_goldstein sent Newsweek writer Kurt Eichenwald a strobing image and the message “You deserve a seizure.” According to Eichenwald, who has epilepsy, the image did in fact trigger a seizure.
On Friday, the FBI arrested a man named John Rivello on charges of cyberstalking in connection with the incident. The arrest came after an investigation that included what is believed to be the first instance of Twitter revealing user data to authorities for use in an investigation.
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According to statements by the Justice Department, Rivello discussed his intention to cause Eichenwald physical harm with other Twitter users in private messages. The investigation also revealed that Rivello had researched common epilepsy triggers before the attack.
The attack was apparently motivated by Eichenwald’s criticism of Donald Trump during a television appearance. The writer says he has repeatedly been sent similar triggering images since, and that those cases are also being looked at by the FBI.
Harassment on Twitter is rampant, and arguably has played a role in the company’s struggle to grow its audience and revenue. But Eichenwald’s case seems unique in the way a digital message was used to cause physical harm. While Rivello’s lawyer in previous proceedings suggested that the message was protected free speech, Eichenwald’s lawyer described it to Newsweek as “no different from someone sending a bomb in the mail or sending an envelope filled with anthrax spores.”
Rivello’s criminal trial, then, could become a significant test case in the future treatment of online harassment.