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Potentially dangerous tweets can bring criminal charges

A type of cybercrime that marks "a new era," according to one computer scientist has gained nationwide attention recently. A 29-year-old man was arrested for sending a tweet to Newsweek's Kurt Einchenwald that was intended to cause the famed journalist, who suffers from epilepsy, to have a seizure.

It accomplished its intended task when he opened the tweet, which contained a flashing image, back in December. According to Eichenwald, he'd received a similar tweet just a few weeks before. He says he dropped his iPad as soon as he saw it, so avoided any harm that time.

According to authorities, the man who sent the tweet was upset by Eichenwald's critical coverage of Donald Trump. They say that his tweet read, "You deserve a seizure for your post." Unfortunately, the incident sparked copycat actions by others sending images with strobe lights to the journalist.

There are other ways besides social media to send potentially dangerous images. In 2008, hackers put seizure-inducing images on the Epilepsy Foundation's website. Fortunately, although some of the site's uses experienced unpleasant symptoms, reportedly none of them suffered seizures.

Although about 4 percent of Americans have some form of the epilepsy, very few have seizures triggered by flashing lights. Authorities say that the man who sent the image, who lives alone in the house where he grew up, apparently knew of Eichenwald's sensitivity to light.

Other types of cyberattacks can cause serious and even deadly consequences. It's possible to hack into a pacemaker or an insulin pump, for example. Fans of the television series "Homeland" may remember an episode in which terrorists killed the U.S. vice president by hacking into his pacemaker.

It remains to be seen whether the man accused in this case uses a free speech defense. However, using the internet to intentionally harm someone can carry with it serious legal consequences.

Source: Washington Post, "Seizure-inducing tweet leads to a new kind of prosecution," Max Ehrenfreund and Antonio Olivo, March 18, 2017

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