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This article was published in April 2017. The information may be out of date. Please check our epilepsy information or our site A-Z.

Man who sent flashing ‘GIF’ image on Twitter to US political journalist with photosensitive epilepsy has been charged

27 Apr 2017

Last month, a man accused of sending a tweet with a flashing image to a US political journalist with photosensitive epilepsy was arrested. John Rayne Rivello, 29, was charged with criminal cyber (online) stalking. If found guilty, Mr Rivello could face a sentence of 10 years in prison.

According to the allegations, in December 2016, Kurt Eichenwald, senior writer for Newsweek, received a tweet with an animated flashing image (also known as a GIF). Mr Eichenwald said that opening the image triggered a tonic-clonic seizure. He reported the incident to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

According to the allegations, the tweet was sent by Mr Rivello with the intention of causing a seizure. The image reportedly contained the words ‘you deserve a seizure for your posts’. It was made up of fast flashing strobe lights and bright colours on a loop. In a statement, the US Department of Justice said the FBI carried out investigations in the lead-up of Mr Rivello’s arrest. They reportedly found messages suggesting an intent to cause a seizure, information about seizures and a fake obituary for Mr Eichenwald on Mr Rivello’s online iCloud account. 

Mr Eichenwald has not hidden his epilepsy and has previously written about his experiences with the condition for The New York Times Magazine. While the reason has not been made clear, reports suggest that the alleged attack may have been motivated by differing political views.

Chantal Spittles, from Epilepsy Action, said: “While deliberate attacks such as this are relatively rare, people with epilepsy can still be vulnerable to potentially harmful abuse on social media. Sending someone a tweet with a deliberate intention to cause a seizure is not only awful and insensitive, but it is another form of physical assault. In the worst case scenario, it could result in someone with photosensitive epilepsy seeing the tweet and having a potentially fatal seizure.

“We would urge anyone to report immediately any abusive activity they see on social media, epilepsy-related and otherwise. Epilepsy Action is currently working with Twitter to increase safety for users and improve reporting procedures should any attacks like this occur in the future.”

The court case continues.

There is more information on photosensitive epilepsy on the Epilepsy Action website.

You can switch off the auto-play setting on Twitter to prevent GIFs and videos playing automatically. You can do this by going into your settings and switching off the video autoplay option.

Google also offers an add-on that you can download to your machine. It allows you to control GIF and moving image settings and gives the option to disable all moving images.

By Jasmine Forrest

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