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Journalist Sues Troll Over Twitter Assault

April 25, 2017, 3:22 PM UTC

When journalist Kurt Eichenwald checked his Twitter account in December, he saw a flashing tweet that said “You Deserve a Seizure for Your Posts,” and fell to the ground in a fit of epilepsy.

The episode is reportedly the first successful assault of its kind against a journalist, and shows how media—particularly short animated images known as GIFs—can be used as a weapon.

On Monday, Eichenwald responded by filing a civil lawsuit against John Rivello, a former Marine who allegedly sent the tweet from a Twitter account called “@jewgoldstein,” and claiming Rivello is liable under Texas state law for assault and battery and other charges.

“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,” the complaint reads.

The lawsuit comes after a Texas grand jury found evidence in March to bring criminal charges against Rivello, citing use of a “deadly weapon” in the form of the flashing tweet.

The complaint also includes an image of the tweet in question, and a screenshot from Eichenwald’s Twitter in which the journalist’s wife responds to Rivello immediately after her husband’s seizure:

Eichenwald’s complaint does not list a specific amount of damages he is seeking from Rivello, but does say the case is worth at $75,000. Rivello could not be immediately reached for comment.

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The lawsuit also cites further evidence obtained from Rivello’s Apple iCloud account to connect him to the alleged Twitter assault. These include a screenshot that suggests Rivello altered the Wikipedia page to show Eichenwald died December 16, 2016, which is the day he received the tweet (the Wikipedia page has since been restored).

The lawsuit also includes Twitter direct messages, purportedly sent by Rivello, which boast how he “Spammed this at [Eichenwald] let’s see if he dies” and saying he knows the journalist has epilepsy.

In March, lawyers for Rivello issued a statement saying their client is a veteran or Iraq and Afghanistan, and that “He is seeking help from the VA. And we are proud to defend this young man who gave so much defending his country.”