Wednesday, March 22, 2017

On The Twitter Seizure Guy

If you are not aware, last year a Newsweek writer Kurt Eichenwald was sent a tweet with a flashing strobe gif on it that caused him, an epileptic, to have a seizure. He filed a criminal complaint and, hey, they got the guy: a 29 year old from Maryland named John Rivello. The guy is now facing criminal charges for knowingly inducing a seizure.

There are a few basic thoughts here:

  1. Should this be, you know, a crime? Sending someone a flashing gif to cause a seizure?
  2. Isn't Eichenwald responsible for his own safety? You can disable animated gifs--shouldn't he have done that (he was given a seizure once before by the same technique, The Omnivore believes)?
  3. It appears all the technology companies involved (Twitter, AT&T, and Apple) rolled over quickly to give up Rivello's information. (the link) is very upset!

The Answers

Yes, it's a crime. The investigation turned up a bunch of research Rivello had done on the causing of seizures. His tweet said "you deserve a seizure." There's no doubt that he was exploiting a weakness in Eichenwald to cause significant harm (if he'd glanced at the phone while driving, he and others could have died, for example--as it was, he had difficulties for quite some time after).

Secondly, do you know how to disable animated gifs without looking it up? The Omnivore didn't. While Eichenwald would be well instructed to do that on all his devices, (a) he could always be hit by checking his account on a device where animations are not turned off and (b) the fact that he didn't is unlikely to be sufficiently powerful to say "he deserved it." It takes a fairly large degree of intended malice to do what Rivello did. Full stop.

Lastly: The organizations involved all acted under a search warrant. We, as consumers, can decide to either use American technology services, which will generally comply with a warrant--or not. There are alternatives to Twitter out there which can be far more resistant to search warrants--but one reason not to use them is because you get far less protections (and far fewer people are on them).

The Omnivore doesn't know what the "expectation of privacy" is for Twitter--but Rivello should probably not have assumed he was completely untraceable when trying to harm (or even kill) Eichenwald. The Omnivore is not impressed.

More To The Point

It's pretty obvious to The Omnivore that most people invested in the debate are partisan. Rivello used the handle @jew_goldstein for his attack. The Omnivore will say, with great confidence, that Rivello was a Trump-voter, definitely in the "basket of deplorables" category (antisemitic, hostile to the press, and probably a bunch of other things too--there's scant information on him The Omnivore can find--but it'll eventually come).

The problem is that people are defending Rivello on the right even though he is clearly deplorable. This is why large swaths of Trump's support are, in fact, tainted: People who will defend this behavior (even with a fig-leaf of philosophy over the actual facts) are shouldering and welcoming the "deplorable" identification.

In other words, the electronic ink spilled on the Trumpian side of this equation shows that, yes, in fact, "deplorables" are welcome in Trump's coalition. This is a perfect litmus test.

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