Trump supporter 'sent strobe tweet that gave epileptic journalist seizure'

Writer tells copycats to stop sending dangerous messages, warning police and FBI will find them

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The Independent US

A man has been charged with cyberstalking after allegedly tweeting a flashing strobe image to a journalist with epilepsy, causing him to have a seizure.

The animated image was sent to Kurt Eichenwald, a Newsweek writer and Vanity Fair contributing editor, with the message: “You deserve a seizure for your post”.

The post referred to is believed to be one in which he wrote about President Donald Trump’s myriad conflicts of interest because of his vast business empire.

The video was one of Pepe the frog, which has been deemed a racist signifier, which Mr Eichenwald said contained “some sort of strobe light, with flashing circles and images of Pepe flying toward the screen.”

The FBI and police investigated before arresting the suspect John Rayne Rivello, aged 29, in Maryland.

Rivello’s Twitter account allegedly contains direct messages about Eichenwald to other users, with statements including, “Let’s see if he dies”, according to an affidavit passed to the court.

Rivello’s icloud account contained a screenshot of Mr Eichenwald’s Wikipedia page which had been doctored to show a fake obituary with the date of death listed as 16 December 2016 – the day after the strobe image was sent.

Mr Eichenwald is now urging people to stop sending the dangerous strobe messages after claiming there have been more than 40 copycat incidents since he went public about the attack on him.

The journalist, who has written about his epilepsy, said on Twitter: “More than 40 ppl sent strobes once they found out they could trigger seizures. Stop sending them.”

He added that identifying information about every person who sent him strobes after finding out about the assault is currently in the hands of the FBI.

Mr Eichanwald wrote in an article in Newsweek in October than one of Mr Trump’s supporters, who used the twitter handle, “Mike’s deplorable AF” had carried out the “cyber assault” by tweeting the strobe image to him.

”It's what's called epileptogenic — something that triggers seizures. Fortunately, since I was standing, I simply dropped my iPad to the ground the second I realized what Mike had done. It landed face down on the bathroom floor," he wrote.

Only around three in every hundred people with epilepsy suffers from the photosensitive kind, according to the charity Epilepsy Action. The condition is more common in females than males and most commonly affects children and young people between the ages of seven and nineteen.

In 2008, trolls posted hundreds of epileptogenic graphics to an online message board run by the Epilepsy Foundation in the US, causing some patients to suffer headaches or seizures.

When Mr Eichanwald decided to take a break from Twitter following the strobe attack, he issued the following warning to potential copycats: “Online anonymity does not protect criminals. That’s why subpoenas exist. You are facing a criminal investigation and a lawsuit. So if any of you others think about trying this ‘cute’ prank, consider the consequences. They will be severe.”