A Maryland man has been reportedly hit with federal charges after a national media figure alleged a Twitter message sent by the alleged troll caused him to have a seizure. The reporter’s lawyer charges that the man’s social media transgression was “no different than someone sending a bomb in the mail.”
The incident occurred back in December, after Newsweek senior writer Kurt Eichenwald made an appearance on Tucker Carlson Tonight. After the appearance, a Twitter user using the handle @jew_goldstein allegedly sent Eichenwald, who suffers from epilepsy, a message containing a strobing gif along with the message, “You deserve a seizure.”
In a later reply via his Twitter feed, a message evidently written by the reporter’s wife appeared, stating: “This is his wife, you caused a seizure. I have your information and have called the police to report the assault.”
Eichenwald, who has publicly discussed his epilepsy and claimed to have been attacked by attempts to spark seizures via online messages in the past, later notified followers that he would seek criminal charges against the man.
“Last night, for the second time, a deplorable aware I have epilepsy tweeted a strobe at me with the message ‘you deserve a seizure’ on it,” he wrote. “It worked. This is not going to happen again. My wife is terrified. I am…disgusted.”
The use of the term “deplorable” in his message isn’t insignificant. Writing for Newsweek back in October, Eichenwald insisted that Trump voters are prone to encouragements of violence against members of the American news media.
In his piece, titled “How Donald Trump Supporters Attack Journalists,” Eichenwald claimed:
…after my article about how Trump’s business interests would create a conflict of unprecedented proportions, I received a tweet from someone with the twitter handle “Mike’s Deplorable AF.” Like many Trump supporters, he has chosen to identify himself as deplorable to mock the label once used by Clinton to describe the racists, neo-Nazis, homophobes and like who have crawled out of the sewer to cheer for the Republican nominee. Mike, however, is indeed deplorable.
In his tweet, which has since been deleted, Mike made mention of my seizures and included a small video. It contained images of Pepe the Frog, a cartoon character that has been identified by the Anti-Defamation League as a hate symbol. I was carrying my iPad, looking at the still image on the video and, without thinking, touched the PLAY button.
The video was some sort of strobe light, with flashing circles and images of Pepe flying toward the screen. 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.
The deplorables are real. The deplorables are dangerous.
Now, if the writer’s point were to suggest that some folks who support Trump online are jerks, he’s certainly well within reason. But that’s only because some folks who support any number of things and talk about them online are inconsiderate and prone to trolling.
But judging by the amount on energy Eichenwald is willing to put into getting the troll — referred to in court documents as John Doe –in trouble with the law, it’s about making an example of an evil Trump supporter and sending a message that all of the president’s supporters feel its OK to physically harm people in support of the bombastic president.
That, of course, is ridiculous. That is, to everyone but Eichenwald and his lawyer.
“What [this person] did with his Twitter message was no different from someone sending a bomb in the mail or sending an envelope filled with Anthrax spores,” Lieberman says. “It wasn’t the content of the communication that was intended to persuade somebody or make them feel badly about themselves; This was an electronic communication that was designed to have a physical effect.”
And Eichenwald is cheering now that the man has been arrested.
“After a 3 month investigation, the FBI this morning arrested the man who assaulted me using a strobe on twitter that triggered a seizure.”
“He currently faces federal charges & is expected to also be indicted by the Dallas District Attorney on different charges in next few days,” Eichenwald said.
Again, what the guy did was an immature jerk thing to do — but relying on the logic of his accusers, we could set some pretty dangerous precedents for internet speech.
It’s also worth noting that, according to the Epilepsy Foundation, only about 3 percent of people with epilepsy are prone to visually-induced seizures. The same organization reports that these seizures can be brought on by everything from mandatory strobing fire alarms in public buildings and vehicle emergency lights to television shows and even sunlight flickering through Venetian blinds.
So, if you happen to live or work around any of those things, make sure you don’t have a sign of Trump support in sight, lest you want to be accused of trying to assault a passing epileptic.
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