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Crime Government Social Networks

FBI Arrests Alleged Attacker Who Tweeted Seizure-Inducing Strobe at a Writer (theverge.com) 151

From a report on The Verge: An arrest has been made three months after someone tweeted a seizure-inducing strobe at writer and Vanity Fair contributing editor Kurt Eichenwald. The Dallas FBI confirmed the arrest to The Verge today, and noted that a press release with more details is coming. Eichenwald, who has epilepsy, tweeted details of the arrest and said that more than 40 other people also sent him strobes after he publicized the first attack. Their information is now with the FBI, he says. It isn't clear whether these "different charges" relate to similar online harassment incidents or something else entirely.
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FBI Arrests Alleged Attacker Who Tweeted Seizure-Inducing Strobe at a Writer

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  • by lobiusmoop ( 305328 ) on Friday March 17, 2017 @04:08PM (#54061377) Homepage

    "At 12:04:03, every screen in the building strobed for eighteen seconds in a frequency that produced seizures in a susceptible segment of Sense/Net employees."

    • "At 12:04:03, every screen in the building strobed for eighteen seconds in a frequency that produced seizures in a susceptible segment of Sense/Net employees."

      I think you've got the wrong novel.

      In Kurt Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron", everyone was required to be "equal" in all ways. People who were smarter than average were required to wear headphones with distracting noises, people who were stronger or faster than average were required to wear extra weights or confining clothing, and so on.

      We've just had a case where a couple of deaf people got 20,000 videos taken offline because the videos were not closed captioned for the deaf.

      Now we've got a legal precedent wh

      • No, someone didn't just get prosecuted just because he sent a tweet to a special needs person. He sent a tweet with the intent to cause him to have a seizure, a tweet that embedded the image, and Twitter being a platform where tweets "just appear" when you go to your Twitter page.
        • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

          So that would be twitters fault for not coding in gif stoppers and user set filters. The attack is too much of a non-attack to be reasonable. The prosecution is unreasonable and inevitably will bring it to public consciousness and a whole string of attacks will result, especially from child, all because one fuss pot got their knickers in a knot and the FBI failed to apply common sense. So all the resulting attacks brought about by this prosecutions, can they in turn prosecute the original complainant for tr

          • Came here just to watch the usual suspects rush to defend the attacker. Was not disappointed. /. is nothing if not predictable.
          • So that would be twitters fault for not coding in gif stoppers and user set filters.

            Not content with blaming platforms for failing to prevent piracy, we're now going to blame them for failing to prevent stalking?

            • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

              The controls are not about prevent stalking. You seem to fail to grasp the concept, those control make stalking invisible to the end user, take all the reward from the stalker and simply end the problem. There should be a range of controls on all social media platforms, that allow the end user to filter and moderate their own feed. Most games have an ignore setting for chat, which is really quite useful, crazy politics and religion and just set them to ignore, they are still there, probably, maybe, but who

      • The book you are talking about is The Sirens of Titan.
      • This is not a lawsuit, it's a criminal investigation. It's a criminal investigation because law enforcement believes that the perpetrator performed their act with the intention of causing a seizure to a specific victim.

        What you're arguing is the equivalent of someone defending a violent felon beating a baby to death with a baseball bat by arguing somehow that this impedes your right to use baseball bats for anything at all, and that really it's the baby's fault for being weaker than everyone else.

        No, y

  • AFK != IRL (Score:5, Interesting)

    by serviscope_minor ( 664417 ) on Friday March 17, 2017 @04:09PM (#54061381) Journal

    Turns out the internet is as much real life as, well, real life. If it's possible to physically injure someone over the internet, then it's just as illegal to attempt to do so as it is in real life.

    "it's just a joke", "for the lolz" or "mah freeze peach" does not make punching someone in the face legal no matter if you think it's funny or are trying to raise a political point.

    And being on the internet is certainly not a free pass to do illegal things.

    • How do you make a tweet strobe? Did he tweet a URL to some crappy flash-based website, or an animated gif, or video? Certainly there are twitter front ends that can read the tweet to you via voice, to help prevent this sort of thing from happening again. Maybe that's something that this writer should look into.
      • You can embed pictures in tweets now.
        • Pictures don't strobe either. I'm guessing you can post animations. I don't care enough to log into the twitter account I created a couple years ago, and have yet to use, to try it.
          • by Mashiki ( 184564 )

            You can post animations, but they don't automatically play unless you have it enabled. It's the same for videos if you embed them.

            • by allo ( 1728082 )

              There are types of media, which play automatically. Others do not.
              I think the automatic ones are loops, the others are videos.

    • >>mah freeze peach

      This is sooo going to be my signature line
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Except all the financial fraud done over the internet which is barely investigated. Organized crime is boring, but if a trivial incident makes the news then a prosecutor hits pause on his porn player and files charges.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        Want some cheese with that whine? Illegal is illegal. Just the fact that you think something else is more important doesn't make your assholery legal, or even acceptable.

      • Except all the financial fraud done over the internet which is barely investigated. Organized crime is boring, but if a trivial incident makes the news then a prosecutor hits pause on his porn player and files charges.

        Here's a tip: if you do something illegal, try to stay anonymous. Complaining the cops should try to catch those who do first when you are caught doesn't prove you're not a criminal, it proves you are a whiney dumb criminal.

    • Re:AFK != IRL (Score:5, Insightful)

      by borcharc ( 56372 ) * on Friday March 17, 2017 @04:39PM (#54061613)

      I really hope this one goes to trial and then some interesting appeals. It's not clear what statute they claim was violated here but I am not buying the argument that a criminal act was committed.

      • by DogDude ( 805747 )
        Seems to me like it'd be simple assault.
        • by borcharc ( 56372 ) *

          simple assault is not a federal crime even if we were to stipulate that it applies here. The further claim that cyberstalking happened is also very weak. Stalking needs more than a few emails over a very short period of time.

          • by geoskd ( 321194 )

            simple assault is not a federal crime even if we were to stipulate that it applies here. The further claim that cyberstalking happened is also very weak. Stalking needs more than a few emails over a very short period of time.

            Any crime that crosses state lines becomes an FBI matter. That is *why* the FBI exists. One of their primary purposes is to have jurisdiction when no single state agency would clearly have jurisdiction. Their purview has expanded a bit since the agency was created, but that is the basic idea behind it. The failure to do that fundamental job in all respects led to the creation of the DHS.

          • simple assault is not a federal crime even if we were to stipulate that it applies here.

            What about an assault crossing state borders? Sending something harmful with the intent to injure via the USPS is a federal offense, is sending one with e.g. UPS also? If it is, can this also be applied to forms of telecommunication?

      • The key to the case will be the mens rea, if the sender knew about the epilepsy and the image was intended to cause harm they've got a good case. The defense will be trying to show the sender didn't know but I imagine they'll tear his computer apart and find out if it was intentional.

        The fact is that something like this should net an assault charge or depending on the severity even an attempted murder charge. There was intent to harm and harm was done. IMO this isn't any different than smearing someone with

      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

        What do you call it when someone does something they know could injure or kill someone else? Reckless endangerment it something?

        • by borcharc ( 56372 ) *

          you are describing a tort claim, not a federal crime at the end of the day we are still talking about minimal damages and harm. I think an argument for a simple assault may hold a little water but I am unaware of a federal statute that covers simple assault. We are talking about a minor misdemeanor at most, but that ignores the real free speech issues. I am also skeptical of the victims claim of having a seizure. Perhaps it's true and the evidence will show that the victim does not take antiseizure meds tha

          • by geoskd ( 321194 )

            you are describing a tort claim, not a federal crime at the end of the day we are still talking about minimal damages and harm. I think an argument for a simple assault may hold a little water but I am unaware of a federal statute that covers simple assault.

            I have an epileptic son. Seizures are not the trivial things you seem to think they are. A grand mal seizure is often life threatening as it causes everything in the brain to go off kilter, including autonomic functions. When my son start having a seizure, he stops breathing, and if it goes on long enough, his heart stops beating. This has only happened once, and he had to be resuscitated. Most of the time, the lack of breathing induces hypoxia and that stops the seizure, but it is by no means a sure thing,

      • It's not clear what statute they claim was violated here [...]

        It's not in TFA, but it's also not hard to find. The guy in question has been charged with stalking.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      > does not make punching someone in the face legal no matter if you think it's funny or are trying to raise a political point.

      But NAZI's!!!

    • Re:AFK != IRL (Score:5, Informative)

      by ImprovOmega ( 744717 ) on Friday March 17, 2017 @05:41PM (#54062145)
      Intent being the key difference.

      Posting a strobe flashy gif animation on a website? Not a big deal. Kinda douchey, but not a crime (even if someone does get a seizure from it but only because causing a seizure was not the intended result).

      Sending a strobe flashy to gif to someone you know who has a seizure disorder and accompanying it with a message that says something to the effect of "I hope you get a seizure from this"? Definitely illegal because the stated intent is to induce a seizure (even if one is *not* induced).

      It's kind of the online equivalent of mailing peanut dust to someone with a peanut allergy. Even if they don't get a bad reaction from it (say, because his mom opened it first and cleaned up before it hit him) then you will still be prosecuted for attempted assault because of the intent behind it.
    • by jnork ( 1307843 )

      I was thinking that a good physical-world parallel would be deliberately spraying peanut oil in aerosol or mist form in the vicinity of somebody allergic to peanuts. It's a form of physical attack that would not harm a typical person, but would be deadly to the target (and any bystanders who happened to share the allergy).

      Or perhaps wearing or releasing a scent known to trigger a certain person's asthma attacks.

  • No. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mcmonkey ( 96054 ) on Friday March 17, 2017 @04:09PM (#54061383) Homepage

    No one was arrested because they sent a picture someone didn't like.

    If the facts as reported are true, there was real intent and possibility of injury.

    • Re:No. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ausekilis ( 1513635 ) on Friday March 17, 2017 @04:16PM (#54061441)

      No, but people are arrested or censored for saying things someone doesn't like. Just look up George Carlin's 7 words you can't say on television.

      In this case, it was a picture sent (most likely) with the intent to injure or induce a seizure. There's a difference between offensive and injurious intent.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by sycodon ( 149926 )

        I bet it won't be long before someone claims text in an email they received triggered some reaction [youtube.com]

        • Certain people send rape and death threats all the time with the intent provoke a reaction. Occasionally some of them are arrested, and it's never the reaction that's the issue. It's usually the threat and possibly the stalking.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        There's a difference between offensive and injurious intent.

        Here's the problem with that, though: Who gets to decide what the difference really is? Consider this scenario:

        Someone sets up someone else for an ostensibly harmless practical joke.
        The joke happens, but the target is injured in the process, has to go to the ER. Charges are filed, a civil suit for damages is filed.

        That's a rather extreme example, but well within the realm of possibility; the perpetrator of the joke can claim there was no intent to cause harm, but may be lying about that, but it doesn't matter. Harm was caused as a direct result, and he may well be criminally and civilly libel. Now, substitute sending someone something over the internet. Does it matter if there was intent to cause harm or not

        • This is not just sending someone a picture, and the courts are pretty good at distinguishing between real injury and claimed harm. The legal system already gets plugged up by idiots looking for revenge or payday.

        • Re:No. (Score:4, Funny)

          by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) on Friday March 17, 2017 @05:23PM (#54061997) Journal

          Here's the problem with that, though: Who gets to decide what the difference really is? Consider this scenario:

          Gee, if we only had some sort of official organization for determining injurious intent. Maybe it could be called a "court" and the people presiding would be called, "judges". Yeah, someone should totally invent that.

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            Yeah sure. Let's set the stage for even more frivolous lawsuits, and more law enforcement man-hours wasted.
      • Re:No. (Score:5, Interesting)

        by DaHat ( 247651 ) on Friday March 17, 2017 @04:59PM (#54061805) Homepage

        Better example: Gregory Allen Elliot [wikipedia.org] who was put on trial for what amounted to disagreeing with a couple of people on Twitter.

        Not quite to the level of a crime? True, but I didn't mention that the people he disagreed with felt 'threatened' by him.

        • I've witnessed escalating shouting matches between neighbours which end up with the police arriving. The law becoming involved in such cases is not new.

          Just like the McDonald's coffee case, a lot of people don't get why this case went to trial. There were genuine disagreements on what actually happened, and it took the investigation and trial to sort it all out.

          There was at least one impersonation account involved, and as such, none of the actually-threatening tweets were from Elliot. But what the case ulti

      • by santiago ( 42242 )

        In this case, it was a picture sent (most likely) with the intent to injure or induce a seizure. There's a difference between offensive and injurious intent.

        Intent seems pretty easy to establish here, seeing as how the message accompanying the picture was “You deserve a seizure for your post.”

      • No, but people are arrested or censored for saying things someone doesn't like. Just look up George Carlin's 7 words you can't say on television.

        In this case, it was a picture sent (most likely) with the intent to injure or induce a seizure. There's a difference between offensive and injurious intent.

        Nobody was censored for sending an image, the image was send to censor somebody who wrote the truth about Trump.

    • Re:No. (Score:4, Informative)

      by Rosco P. Coltrane ( 209368 ) on Friday March 17, 2017 @04:27PM (#54061517)

      He wasn't arrested for the flashy GIF. He was arrested for the accompanying tweet text:

      "
      Hey dude, jack up the brightness and contrast. ....
      Done yet?
      BWAHAHAHAHA!!!! You're so convulsing on the floor!!! I gotcha good!!!
      "

    • Yes, the intent matters.

      If I make a salad that happens to have nuts in it and serve it to you, not knowing you're allergic, that's an unfortunate accident, but innocuous.

      If, however, I know you're deathly allergic to peanuts, and grind up peanut dust to put in it, and mention to a friend that I hope you choke on it, that's an entirely different matter.
    • by borcharc ( 56372 ) *

      Thankfully we live in a civilized world where possibility of injury isn't relevant and only real injury is. If we were to believe that a minor seizure happened to a person who has a history of seizures we are talking about only a very minor injury. Maybe a punch in the face for the average person, not quite the federal offense that is implied here.

      • Thankfully we live in a civilized world where possibility of injury isn't relevant and only real injury is.

        Yeah, exactly - that' why sending mail bombs is completely legal if nobody gets hurt.

  • Good (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Schezar ( 249629 ) on Friday March 17, 2017 @04:10PM (#54061397) Homepage Journal

    If something like this is done with intent to harm and knowledge of the likelihood of harm, it's tantamount to punching him in the face.

    • i'd be worried if he actually got convicted of anything. is it really that far from assault with a deadly weapon, to negligent homicide?

    • The problem with this is that their is no good side to this. Maybe loads of people will be now be charged and jailed over what amounts to whiplash. Some injury that cannot be proven, but easily alleged.

      And you know right now he is being bombarded on all sides with hundreds of similar tweets. The first forum I read about this on started immediately to send similar images to him in retaliation. Someone in Somalia will never have to worry about the FBI arresting them for an "assault Tweet", so will not think t

  • Fantastic (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Let's not forget that this guy was targeted by alt-reichers and white supremacists because he was investigating some of Donald Trump's criminal activity.

    Send this criminal to jail. The tweet was sent with the intent of triggering a seizure - that's worthy of a couple of years in the slammer, at least.

  • I wonder if the reason the FBI took this meme sent on Twitter so seriously has something to do with the alleged "brainwashing" neuroscience techniques pioneered by Delgado and others.

    Flashing memes get sent by the millions over the internet daily, some sent with the intent of causing seizure. Why take this one so seriously?

    There seems to be a very limited number of answers, so it makes me wonder. This just seems so non-sensical and asymetric...punishment does not fit the crime whatsoever.

    • Re:P-300 Waves (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Fire_Wraith ( 1460385 ) on Friday March 17, 2017 @05:28PM (#54062047)
      It's about deliberate and demonstrable intent. Furthermore, it's about intent that can be proven in a court of law. In this case, the guy not only sent the image to someone known publicly to suffer seizures of this kind, he explicitly stated it was his intent to give the guy a seizure, and thereby do harm to him.

      If I post up a flashing image on the FlashingObnoxiousGifs site, that's like my eating a peanut butter sandwich, or shooting my rifle at a firing range. It's not going to hurt anyone, unless they're being really really dumb.

      If on the other hand, I deliberately try to serve cookies containing peanuts to you, knowing you're deathly allergic to peanuts, and tell someone that my intention is to do you harm, then yes, that's illegal and I should expect to be charged, much the same as if I'd laced them with a more generally toxic compound.
      Likewise, if I turn around on the range and point the rifle at you, and pull the trigger, yelling 'eat lead motherf*cker', then uh, yeah, I'm kinda deliberately trying to harm you.
      • Slippery slope (Score:2, Flamebait)

        by mi ( 197448 )

        If on the other hand, I deliberately try to serve cookies containing peanuts to you, knowing you're deathly allergic to peanuts

        Peanut allergy is real. So, apparently, is the effect of strobing images on epileptics. But it is still worrying...

        Recall, that "trigger warnings" are already "a thing". What if my political opinion "triggers" somebody — causing them pain and/or other suffering? For now, such snowflakes are content to escape the brutal realities of life in "safe spaces". Unfortunately, those

        • Peanut allergy is real. So, apparently, is the effect of strobing images on epileptics. But it is still worrying...

          No it really isn't. Attempt to cause actual harm as always been illegal. Doing it by an unusual mechanism has never been an excuse. Likewise doing crimes over the internet does not make them less as crimes.

          Recall, that "trigger warnings" are already "a thing".

          Yes? I don't understand the mindset that considers them to be a bad thing. They're a basic form of politeness saying essentially "the fol

      • It's about deliberate and demonstrable intent. Furthermore, it's about intent that can be proven in a court of law. In this case, the guy not only sent the image to someone known publicly to suffer seizures of this kind, he explicitly stated it was his intent to give the guy a seizure, and thereby do harm to him.

        that makes sense...

        didn't know he stated that explicitly...some DA bucking for a promotion might latch onto that and make a big headline-grabbing case out of it...that explaination is rational

  • I'm reminded of the Louis CK bit about nut allergies. https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

  • Because the jerks/trolls who'd do stuff like this will become more sophisticated. Instead of attaching a GIF, they'll use an embedded link which auto-loads the image from a server. And the server will only send the "bad" image the first time, substituting an innocuous image for subsequent viewings.

    Here's to hoping this leads to all email clients gaining an option to block automatic loading of animated GIFs and/or embedded image links.
  • It should be straightforward to write a filter to detect animated images with luminance variations of the right amplitude and frequency to cause seizures in susceptible individuals. These individuals could then enable the filter and be spared from this type of attack.

    I wonder why the various browser and email application vendors have not implemented such, for ADA purposes.

    • by aevan ( 903814 )
      Just disable flashing gifs, period. Nothing of value is lost, just 'reaction gifs' for the most part. Already are extensions out there like AniDisable to do that.
  • Intent or not, it should not be a crime to send such a graphic. Shouldn't matter if the recipient is an epileptic. It's just a graphic. There was no physical assault.

    Maybe we should litter the internet with such images to keep the images considered part of everyday life. Just like my kid should be able to take peanut butter sandwiches to school.

    For those with such issues... If it hurts if you touch it, then don't touch it. If the internet can harm you, don't use it. If peanut butter can kill you, stay

    • There was no physical assault.

      The FBI disagrees with you as do most people here it seems. It remains to be seen whether the judge disagrees with you, but I very much suspect he or she will.

      Attempt to cause harm is and always has been illegal. "but it's on the internet" is not a factor.

      It's not covered by free speech any more than offering someone 50 bucks to beat the guy up is free speech.

  • ...I can honestly say I'm no longer surprised by stupid shit like this. All those YouTubers with "RIP headphone users" videos better watch out, because if some people don't know how to turn their fucking brightness down so their computer/phone doesn't give them a seizure, claims of hearing damage from excessive volume can't be far off.

    I have no love whatsoever for Twitter trolls (and the thought of one being arrested by the FBI almost seems like karma), but the FBI should've told this fuckwit to turn his i

    • Sure, the guy should switch it off for his own protection.

      However, if someone takes a swing at you, you are under no obligation to get out of the way or even attempt to do so. Failing to do so doesn't somehow make punching you in the face "not assault".

      "But your honour the victim didn't even attempt to duck"

      "Really? Case dismissed!"

      • by moeinvt ( 851793 )

        Actually, I think that will be a question for the jury. Consider this one.

        There was a vehicular homicide case in NJ where a guy was driving way over the speed limit and had a crash which ended up killing his passenger. The fact that the passenger wasn't wearing a seatbelt at the time was ruled admissible as evidence for the defense. The jury could thus consider whether it was reckless driving that caused the death or if it was the victim's failure to buckle their seatbelt

        Forgot how it turned out, but the

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