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No, You Can't Cyberzap People

By William Vogeler, Esq. | Last updated on

One day, a journalist opened a Twitter message that emitted a flashing strobe and sent him into an epileptic seizure.

The message came from an irate reader, who knew the journalist was epileptic. The flashing GIF said, "You deserve a seizure for your posts."

Kurt Eichenwald sued the reader for battery, and a judge said the man deserved it. No, John Rivello, you can't cyberzap people.

"A Physical Tool"

Rivello asked Texas Judge James Bredar to dismiss the lawsuit, but the judge declined. Breder threw out a claim for "purposeful infliction of bodily harm," but not the rest.

"The strobe GIF was a physical tool, one that would have the same impact on any person with plaintiff's condition," Bredar said. "What mattered was the physical nature of the light emitted from the GIF."

The judge said it was like second-hand smoke, which can also constitute a battery. He said physical contact can be "of an amorphous nature; it is not always accomplished by means of a solid, graspable object."

Eichenwald has a controversial history, and became a lighting rod for online attacks after he criticized Donald Trump during the presidential election. Following Rivello's cyberzap in 2016, Eichenwald said he received more than 40 similar strobing images.

Arrested Development

Federal authorities arrested and charged Rivello with violating stalking laws. They later dropped the case, but state prosecutors followed up with charges based on assault with a deadly weapon.

Meanwhile, Eichenwald is having problems with his publishers. He has claimed to be a contributor to Vanity Fair and MSNBC.

However, the publications have distanced themselves from him. Vanity Fair said he hasn't written for the company since 2014.

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