The U.S. Epilepsy Foundation filed criminal complaints this month following an attack on its Twitter account that could have harmed people with epilepsy.
The non-profit organisation announced on Monday it had asked U.S. law enforcement agencies to assist with a mass attack on social media that took place during America's National Epilepsy Awareness Month. According to the statement, the assailants posted videos and GIFs with strobing and flashing lights to the group’s Twitter handle and associated hashtags.
Certain patterns of flashing lights can trigger seizures for some people with epilepsy. “While the population of those with photosensitive epilepsy is small, the impact can be quite serious,” said Jacqueline French, Epilepsy Foundation chief medical officer explained in a press statement. “Many are not even aware they have photosensitivity until they have a seizure.”
The New York Times reports that the Epilepsy Foundation reported 30 attacks the first week of November, but it is unclear how many users viewed the potentially harmful content. According to the Times, the group filed a complaint with the United States Attorney’s Office in Maryland, where the foundation is based, as well as other law enforcement agencies.
“These attacks are no different than a person carrying a strobe light into a convention of people with epilepsy and seizures, with the intention of inducing seizures and thereby causing significant harm to the participants,” said Epilepsy Foundation’s director of legal advocacy, Allison Nichol, in a statement. “The fact that these attacks came during National Epilepsy Awareness Month only highlights their reprehensible nature.
These attacks seem to be growing more prevalent since a December 2016 incident in which Marine veteran John Rayne Rivello allegedly sent a strobe GIF to the Twitter account of Kurt Eichenwald, a journalist and author who has epilepsy. Rivello sent the tweet about two months after Newsweek published an article written by Eichenwald titled, “How Donald Trump Supporters Attack Journalists.”
“You deserve a seizure for your posts,” Rivello allegedly wrote on Twitter, along with, “I hope this sends him into a seizure” and “let’s see if he dies.”
The GIF triggered a seizure, according to Eichenwald’s lawyer, who told the Times that Eichenwald “probably would have died but for the fact that his wife heard a noise—she’s a physician—and she pulled him away from the screen and got him onto the floor.”
Rivello was expected to plead guilty to aggravated assault on Monday, but the hearing was postponed until next month.
Following the Epilepsy Foundation statement about the November attack, Eichenwald called out trolls who attack people with epilepsy in a tweet: “When will these idiots figure out we won’t let them try to kill or hurt us anymore?”