|The Tweet That Caused A Seizure: How Twitter Was Weaponized|
When Kurt Eichenwald, a senior writer at Newsweek, publicly disclosed that he suffered from epilepsy, little did he imagine someone sending a tweet as an online weapon–a GIF image of a strobe light–to provoke a seizure.
Robert Glatter, MD Contributor
March 20, 2017
Courtesy; Chris Ratcliffe,Bloomberg
That is exactly what happened to him late in 2016, and now the FBI has arrested John Rayne Rivello, accusing him of sending the tweet containing the potentially deadly file. The FBI has subsequently charged him with criminal cyberstalking with the intent to kill or cause bodily harm.
While we have long known about the profound psychological effects of online bullying, this case illustrates how tweets can be weaponized, leading to bodily harm or even death .
Such electronic transmission of a deadly image is akin to sending pipe bombs or toxic substances such as anthrax via the US postal service: the net effect can be bodily harm or death.
Patients with photosensitivity epilepsy can have seizures that are typically triggered by flashing lights, as well as certain visual patterns which are considered bold or contrasting including stripes or check images. Playing video games in excess may also lead to a seizure as well. There appears to be a genetic component to developing this type of epilepsy, which can be treated using anti-epileptic medications.
Patients with photosensitivity epilepsy generally experience a generalized tonic-clonic seizure , more commonly known as convulsive type seizure, as opposed to a seizure where there is only staring and no muscular contraction. During this time, there is loss of consciousness, jerking or contraction of muscles as they contract or stiffen or relax, with abnormal breathing, tongue biting, and incontinence of urine.
As the seizure abates, the muscles relax and there is a gradual return of consciousness. Upon awakening, a person often is tired, sluggish, and sleepy, does not remember the event, and may experience a headache with generalized muscle aches from the muscle contractions.
Approximately 1 in 100 persons in the U.S. suffer from epilepsy , and it is estimated that 3-5% of these people have photosensitivity epilepsy. Children and teens are more apt to suffer with photosensitivity epilepsy, with girls more often affected. Yet, boys actually have more seizures, because they typically spend more time engaged in playing video games, a known and frequent trigger.
If a seizure is prolonged, it can starve brain cells of necessary oxygen, leading to cell death and injury , and potential long term neurologic consequences, impairing cognition, speech and result in weakness. Bodily injury as a result of seizures may include blunt head trauma, lacerations, neck injuries, and joint dislocations.
A seizure develops when there is disordered and chaotic electrical activity in the brain, with epilepsy defined by those with recurrent seizures.