Under normal circumstances, tweeting a GIF aimed at a certain person will not land you in prison. Most of the time, Twitter will temporarily ban you or block you from a certain person for “hate speech.” However, this is not the case for John Rivello.

John Rivello tweeted animated strobe lights to Kurt Eichenwald, a Newsweek writer. While these strobes are harmless to most, Eichenwald had recently opened up about his epilepsy. Epilepsy is a neurological disorder characterized by seizures. One “trigger” for some people with epilepsy can be flashing lights. This was the case for Eichenwald. When Rivello tweeted last December “You deserve a seizure for your post,” along with a strobe light GIF, Eichenwald had a serious seizure. This seizure lasted for about eight minutes, which lasted long enough for him to fall into “status epilepticus,” which could be deadly.

Why is it not just hate speech?

It was not necessarily the tweet that was the problem. It was the intent of the tweet, which in Eichenwald’s case, was a deadly weapon. The charges are along the lines of sending Anthrax to someone. While sending a hateful letter is not illegal, it is the Anthrax, a deadly weapon that is illegal. Rivello knew full and well what the strobes could do to Eichenwald. His charges are for cyber-stalking and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

After the attack, more than 40 people have sent him strobes. While strobes can cause seizures, in no way are they funny.

Rivello was released on a $100,000 bail, he could face up to 20 years in prison.

Some statistics on Epilepsy

This can be a great lesson on what epilepsy is, and how severe it is. Here are some facts about epilepsy and seizures

  • One in ten people will experience a seizure at some point in their life
  • One in twenty-six people will be diagnosed with seizures in their lifetime
  • About 3 million Americans and 65 million people worldwide have epilepsy
  • In 1/3 of people with epilepsy, the cause is unknown
  • In America alone, about 50,000 deaths occur due to seizures (Status Epilepticus, SUDEP, drowning and other incidents)
  • Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP) accounts for about 34% of sudden deaths in children
  • Epilepsy affects more people than multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy and Parkinson’s combined
  • Not all seizures are convulsive like those shown in the media.

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