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FBI arrests Twitter user who sent seizure-inducing GIF

The tweet to journalist Kurt Eichenwald allegedly came with the message: "You deserve a seizure."

Eichenwald in 2009.
Jim Spellman/WireImage

Kurt Eichenwald, a journalist who writes for Vanity Fair and Newsweek, tweeted Friday that the FBI had arrested a man suspected of purposefully sending him a GIF that triggered an epileptic seizure.

(Warning: Similar rapidly flashing GIFs have been posted as replies to that link.)

The Department of Justice confirmed in a statement that John Rayne Rivello, 29, of Salisbury, Maryland, was arrested Friday on federal charges of cyberstalking a Dallas victim. That victim is presumably Eichenwald, though his identity wasn't released in the statement.

Eichenwald has written openly about his epilepsy in years past. In December 2016, a Twitter user with the handle @jew_goldstein sent him a strobing GIF, which induced a seizure. According to Eichenwald, the tweet came with the message: "You deserve a seizure."

The incident happened after he appeared on television and criticized then-President-elect Donald Trump's policies.

After the incident, Eichenwald took a short break from Twitter, but not before he said he would press charges against those who sent similar images. He said more than 40 strobe images were sent to him.

In addition to the FBI, the Dallas Police, the Dallas County District Attorney, the US Attorney in Dallas and the Department of Homeland Security are involved in the case.

The complaint was unsealed today following Rivello's initial appearance in US District Court in Maryland.

According to the affidavit, Rivello's Twitter account contained direct messages from Rivello's account to other Twitter users concerning the victim, the Justice Department said.

"Those direct messages included statements by Rivello, including 'I hope this sends him into a seizure,' 'Spammed this at [victim] let's see if he dies,' and 'I know he has epilepsy,'" the Justice Department wrote.

In addition, Rivelo's iCloud account allegedly contained a screenshot of a Wikipedia page for the victim, which had been altered to show a fake obituary with the date of death listed as Dec. 16, 2016. It also contained screenshots from Epilepsy.com with a list of commonly reported epilepsy seizure triggers, and from Dallasobserver.com discussing the victim's report to the Dallas Police Department and his attempt to identify the Twitter user, according to the Justice Department.

First published March 17, 12:27 p.m. PT.
Update, 3:19 p.m. PT: With confirmation from the Justice Department, defendant's name and more details from the affidavit.