GIF is 'a deadly weapon', says Texas grand jury after reporter suffers seizure in online 'assault'

A Texas Grand Jury has declared a GIF a deadly weapon in a case said to be the first of its kind, where a suspect intentionally sent a strobing image to an epileptic reporter who then suffered a seizure.
A Texas Grand Jury has declared a GIF a deadly weapon in a case said to be the first of its kind, where a suspect intentionally sent a strobing image to an epileptic reporter who then suffered a seizure.PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

A GIF is just as deadly as a gun or knife, a Texas grand jury decided after a suspect was arrested for sending a strobing GIF to an epileptic reporter who immediately suffered a seizure.

John Rayne Rivello was accused of intentionally sending the GIF, which stands for Graphics Interchange Format, a format for image files that are often animated, to Newsweek journalist Kurt Eichenwald in December last year.

Mr Eichenwald, who has spoken openly about his epilepsy, allegedly suffered an eight-minute seizure once he saw the message that was sent to him on Twitter.

Those with photosensitive epilepsy can get seizures when exposed to flickering images.

The United States Department of Justice and a Dallas grand dury issued indictments against Rivello, referring to the GIF as "a deadly weapon", NBC News reported on Tuesday (March 21).

The GIF was allegedly overlaid with text "You deserve a seizure for your posts", according to information provided in the Department Of Justice complaint against Rivello.

FBI investigations found that Rivello had sent direct messages to other Twitter users about Mr Eichenwald, saying "I hope this sends him into a seizure", "I know he has epilepsy" and "Spammed this at (Eichenwald) let's see if he dies".

The indictment indicated that Rivello "intentionally, knowingly and recklessly" caused bodily injury to Mr Eichenwald "by inducing a seizure with an animated strobe image, knowing that the complainant was susceptible to seizures and that such animations are capable of causing seizures".


The Texas Grand Jury's referral against Rivello. PHOTO: TEXAS GRAND JURY

NBC News cited experts in technology and cyber harassment law as saying that this is likely the first time a GIF has been deemed a deadly weapon used in a physical assault.

In 2008, the Epilepsy Foundation website was hacked and flooded with rapidly flashing images.

Some site visitors who viewed them experienced severe migraines and near-seizure reactions, CBS News then reported.