The rapid growth of social media and apps has to a raft of new cyberstalking laws at federal and state levels. Offensive tweets, Facebook posts, and texts have been linked to teen suicides and other consequences. However, in a recent case involving a Dallas-based reporter, a tweet is linked to direct harm.
A man from Maryland was arrested on a federal cyberstalking charge. He is accused of sending a Dallas-based magazine reporter an image on Twitter intended to cause an epileptic seizure.
John Rayne Rivello, a 29-year-old from Salisbury, was arrested last week on a criminal complaint filed in Dallas.
A report on NBC stated a complaint was filed last December by Kurt Eichenwald, a Newsweek reporter. Eichenwald suffers from epilepsy. He received a strobe image on his Twitter account on Dec. 15 which prosecutors say was intended to trigger a seizure. The message was accompanied with the words: “You deserve a seizure for your posts.”
Then New York Times reported Eichenwald suffered a seizure when he opened the message.
News reports said the message was apparently sent in response to Eichenwald’s criticism of then-President-elect Donald Trump.
In a news release the justice department said investigators obtained a search warrant that uncovered a direct message from Rivello’s account to other Twitter users concerning the victim. Rivello allegedly said he knew Eichenwald has epilepsy and he hoped the message would cause a seizure. Federal investigators said they found evidence he researched epilepsy.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested Rivello. He was charged with criminal cyberstalking with the intent to kill or cause bodily harm. The charge could carry a prison sentence of at least 10 years.
Cyberstalking in Texas
It’s an offense in Texas to use the name or identity of another person without their permission online with intent to harm, intimidate or threaten. The form of communication can be a text message, an instant message, an email, or another communication that contains details like a name, domain address, phone number, or other identifying information.
The offense is charged as a Class A misdemeanor, but can become a third degree felony when the perpetrator commits the offense with the intent to solicit a response by emergency personnel.
Earlier this year, Texas legislators introduced the so-called “David’s Law” into the legislature in the wake of the suicide of 16-year-old David Molak from San Antonio.
The draft legislation contains a requirement–all Texas schools to implement anti-bullying and cyber-bullying policies.
Schools would be required to contact parents within 24 hours of their child being the victim of bullies. They would be required to allow police to get subpoenas to reveal the identities of anonymous cyber bullies.
This is a rapidly growing area that treads a balance between threatening and harmful behavior online and the First Amendment freedom of speech.
Intimidation online is a rapidly developing area and one which treads a delicate balance between First Amendment rights and behavior that is intimidating and threatening. Even Emojis have been judged to be threatening. In a case in Virginia, a 12-year-old girl was charged with threatening her school over an Emoji sent on Instagram containing guns and a knife.