Prosecutors recently charged Twitter user John Wayne Rivello with cyber stalking for sending a Tweet with a flashing strobe image (that stated, “YOU DESERVE A SEIZURE FOR YOUR POSTS”) to journalist Kurt Eichenwald with the intent to cause harm.
It appears that Rivello may not have been happy with how Eichenwald has covered President Donald Trump so he decided to Tweet towards him in the hopes that Eichenwald would see the message and it would cause him physical harm. Eichenwald has previously publicly acknowledged that he is epileptic. If Rivello knew that his Tweet towards Eichenwald may cause him to have an epileptic seizure or other harm there is a strong possibility he may be found guilty.
On its face, this prosecution sounds like an over reach. How can someone be sent to prison based upon a Tweet with a mean message that wouldn’t harm most people? When I first heard about Eichenwald’s claims I was very skeptical. However, a 2015 Supreme Court case about social media threats, Elonis v. United States, states that mens rea or intent to harm is required in order to convict someone of social media threats. Therefore, if prosecutors can prove that Rivello had the intent to harm Eichenwald, Rivello may be convicted.
The bottom line is that you must be careful about what you post online because you may be prosecuted for sending mean Tweets or other posts if it can be proven that they hurt the intended target and you had the intent to harm the person whom you are directing your message towards.