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Grand jury decides that seizure-inducing GIF counts as a deadly weapon

Kurt Eichenwald (Photo: Getty Images/WireImage, Jim Spellman)
Kurt Eichenwald (Photo: Getty Images/WireImage, Jim Spellman)

A few days ago, we reported that a Twitter user named John Rivello had been arrested by the FBI in connection to a targeted harassment campaign that was being directed at Newsweek writer and Vanity Fair editor Kurt Eichenwald. Rivello had allegedly sent a specific GIF to Eichenwald (who has epilepsy) that caused him to have a seizure, and so Rivello—who was mad at Eichenwald for criticizing Donald Trump—suddenly found himself facing what could be the first ever criminal charge for using an image on the internet to inflict physical harm on someone.

Now, according to NBC News, a grand jury in Texas has just decided that the GIF in this case should be considered a deadly weapon, just like a gun or knife. That means Rivello is being charged with violating a federal cyberstalking law and for assault with a deadly weapon, and it just so happens that the weapon is an animated GIF. NBC News spoke with a cybersecurity expert who said that Rivello could try and claim a First Amendment defense, since this could theoretically start a slippery slope of banning art because it “upsets someone,” but that argument ignores the fact that Eichenwald was targeted like this because he has epilepsy.

Anyway, all of that is for the courts to decide now.

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