A US Grand Jury Has Ruled That a GIF Was Used as a Murder Weapon

Kurt Eichenwald (via The Daily Kos)
No, you're not misreading that. On December 16th, the Wikipedia page for Vanity Fair journalist Kurt Eichenwald was altered to state that he had died on that date. One day previously, Eichenwald had been sent a DM on Twitter which contained a GIF of a flashing strobe lighting effect. Echenwald suffers from epilepsy, and the GIF was sent with the intent of causing a fatal seizure.

You can rub your eyes all you want, you're still not misreading it. The perpetrator, a man named John Rayne Rivello, was found to have sent several tweets and DMs which expressed his desire to kill Eichenwald. One in particular read "Spammed this at [Eichenwald] let's see if he dies."

Eichenwald did indeed suffer a seizure when he opened the message, and he could well have died from it. So, why try to kill someone using a GIF? Donald Trump, obviously.

Even before he started gunning for a seat in the Oval office, Eichenwald was writing about Donald Trump, and most of it was a far cry from praise. In December, Vanity Fair published an extremely scathing article about Trump Grill, prompting the man himself to declare the magazine 'dead'. Eichenwald didn't write the article, but he still weathered a barrage of online criticism for it, leading ultimately to this bizarre, haphazard assassination attempt.

Whether or not Rivello actually expected the GIF to harm or kill Eichenwald, the Texas Grand Jury have now ruled the use of the GIF as deadly force. He might have gotten away with it if he hadn't repeatedly stated that he not only wanted his target to seize, but even hoped that he would die from it.

This raises some worrying observations. Rivello clearly has a few screws loose. Sorry, I'm being too lenient, Rivello is a moron, but if someone were to enact the same thing without blatantly admitting that they were doing so, it could amount to getting away with murder. Epilepsy is one of a very few serious conditions which is triggered by visual stimuli, but it's far from uncommon. Internet abuse is getting more creative, and this is not only not the first time this has happened; it's not even the first time it's happened to Eichenwald.

Last October somebody tried the same thing on him, but luckily he dropped his iPad before the flashing image could take effect. Eichenwald probably now holds the record for 'most murder attempts by GIF', but this is the first one to develop into such a large, complex court case. Depending on how things go, this case could bring about a whole new series of regulations for posting GIFs which may cause seizures. Some time in the future they could even be banned outright on some platforms.

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