The FBI has arrested a 29-year-old man, John R. Rivello, for sending a journalist known to be epileptic, Kurt Eichenwald, a tweet with the animated GIF pictured on the left, which is epileptogenic, or potentially likely to provoke attacks in people with epilepsy. After receiving and viewing the image, the journalist did in fact suffer an attack.
The tweet was sent by Rivello through a Twitter account with a fake name, @jew_goldstein, now suspended. After Eichenwald’s wife reported the matter to the police, they asked Twitter for the details of the account, a request to which the company agreed, to find that the attacker had used a prepaid phone specifically purchased for the crime and paid in cash, in addition to having opened the account with a fake email. The company that sold the phone, Tracfone, had no information about the user.
Finally, investigators discovered that Rivello used the same SIM card, in addition to the terminal in question, on his iPhone 6, which was linked to an iCloud account. A check of that account after a request to Apple led to documents that showed an interest in the journalist, linking the SIM card to Rivello. Although both Apple and Twitter are known to jealously guard the identity of their users, they do collaborate with the police on some cases.
Kurt Eichenwald is a well-known and controversial journalist. The 55-year-old has more than 300,000 followers on his Twitter account and is the author of four books. He is an active critic of Donald Trump, and it is assumed that the attacker was a fervent follower of the US president. After receiving the tweet, Eichenwald’s wife found him on the ground, with the GIF playing on the screen of his smartphone, and after calling an ambulance, she responded to the attacker using her husband’s account. According to Eichenwald’s lawyer, as a result of the attack and the fall, the journalist was bed-ridden for several days, lost sensitivity in his left hand and had problems with speech for several weeks.
Since then, Eichenwald, who already takes appropriate precautions when opening his messages, has received similar animated GIFs from another forty accounts, which are also being investigated by the FBI, who will likely charge the senders with a felony assault with a deadly weapon and incitement to hate. We now live in an age when a deadly weapon is no longer necessarily a pistol or a knife, but can be an animated GIF, and doing no more than sending it through Twitter can justifiably constitute an imprisonable offense.
Regardless of the technology, how innocent or harmless it is, there will always be criminals prepared to put it to criminal use. Sending a GIF may seem like a simple and innocent enough act, but a GIF can be a potentially dangerous weapon. And assault, hatred or any other type of attack is a crime, regardless of the means used to commit it.
(En español, aquí)