Epilepsy Foundation Says Hackers Posted Seizure-Causing GIFs To Twitter Account

The Epilepsy Foundation says it was targeted in a series of cyberattacks last month that caused the organization’s Twitter account to share GIFs and videos meant to trigger seizures to its thousands of followers.

The attacks, which featured flashing or strobing lights, deliberately targeted the Twitter account during National Epilepsy Awareness Month, when the greatest number of people with seizure disorders were likely following the feed, the foundation said in a press release Monday.

The foundation’s Twitter account was hacked 30 times in the first week of November, a spokesperson for the Epilepsy Foundation told HuffPost. It’s unclear how many people viewed the tweets or if anyone suffered a seizure because of them.

“We have not yet been contacted by anyone who was adversely affected; the investigation is still ongoing,” the spokesperson said.

The foundation has reported the attacks to law enforcement authorities, including the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Maryland, where the organization is headquartered, reported The New York Times. A spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office declined to confirm or deny an investigation.

“Twitter is one of the largest places of public gathering that exists today,” Allison Nichol, director of legal advocacy for the Epilepsy Foundation, said in a statement. “These attacks are no different than a person carrying a strobe light into a convention of people with epilepsy and seizures.”

About 3% of people with epilepsy, mostly children and adolescents, suffer from a photosensitive version of the disorder, which can cause them to have seizures if exposed to certain flashing lights or visual patterns, according to the Epilepsy Foundation.

Many people don’t realize they have photosensitivity epilepsy until they have a seizure, said Jacqueline French, the foundation’s chief medical and innovation officer.

Last month’s cyberattacks were similar to messages targeting author Kurt Eichenwald in 2016, the foundation said.

Eichenwald, who has epilepsy, was sent a message on Twitter containing a strobe light GIF and the message: “You deserve a seizure for your posts.” Two months earlier, Eichenwald had written a piece for Newsweek about the death threats he received for criticizing then-candidate Donald Trump during the 2016 election.

The message caused Eichenwald to suffer an immediate seizure, which lasted about eight minutes, reported the Times. His lawyer said Eichenwald probably would have died if his wife, a physician, hadn’t found him unresponsive and called 911.

Law enforcement officials traced the attack to John Rayne Rivello, a Marine Corps veteran from Maryland. He was reportedly scheduled to plead guilty on Monday to a charge of aggravated assault, but the hearing was postponed until January.

Eichenwald, in response to the Epilepsy Foundation’s statement on the cyberattacks, tweeted Monday: “When will these idiots figure out we won’t let them try to kill or hurt us anymore?”

This story has been updated with comments from a spokesperson for the Epilepsy Foundation

CLARIFICATION: An earlier version of this article stated the foundation brought forth criminal complaints. The language has been amended to say that organization reported the incident to law enforcement.

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