A man from another state was recently arrested for sending a GIF with a strobe-like animation to a journalist on Twitter. The harm? The journalist, Newsweek’s Kurt Eichenwald, has epilepsy, and strobe lights can trigger seizures in many epileptics. Unfortunately, Eichenwald did suffer from a seizure on the occasion, which took place after Eichenwald appeared on Fox News’s “Tucker Carlson Tonight” in December.
In the Tweet containing the GIF, which was sent, the man allegedly wrote “You deserve a seizure,” and later Tweeted, “Spammed this at (Eichenwald) let’s see if he dies,” and “I know he has epilepsy.”
Copycats then began Tweeting the strobing GIF. Eichenwald says he received some 40 copies before he himself sent a Tweet educating readers about the potential effect.
The man was arrested by a coalition of agencies including the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security the Maryland State Police, the Ocean City Police Department and the Dallas Police Department. He has been charged with cyberstalking.
The alleged perpetrator, who goes by the now-banned Twitter handle @jew_golstein, may have been motivated by anti-Semitism, or perhaps by anger over Eichenwald’s anti-Trump rhetoric, according to the New York Daily News.
“This electronic message was no different than a bomb sent in the mail or anthrax sent in an envelope,” Eichenwald’s attorney told the New York Times. “It triggers a physical effect.”
The Department of Justice did not charge the incident under the same statute as it would have had anthrax been sent in an envelope, however. Neither did they attempt to categorize the incident as a hate crime.
Instead, prosecutors chose the seemingly small-time charge of cyberstalking. Under federal law, however, cyberstalking is charged as ordinary stalking and the word does not carry its everyday meaning.
Instead of a statute against a former or hopeful romantic partner intrusively keeping tabs on a love interest, the federal stalking law essentially prohibits traveling across state lines with the intent to intent to kill, injure, harass, or intimidate another person by performing an act reasonably likely to make them fear for their life or safety. If convicted, the man could face up to 10 years in prison if Eichenwald’s seizure is held to be serious bodily injury and if the strobing GIF is held to be a dangerous weapon.