Epilepsy Foundation files criminal complaint over seizure-inducing videos posted on Twitter

Foundation says Twitter trolls have bombarded its Twitter feed with seizure-inducing content to harm epilepsy victims.

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Image: Jesse Echevarria

The Epilepsy Foundation on Monday lodged a criminal complaint against a group of unidentified Twitter users for a coordinated attack on its Twitter feed.

The foundation says unidentified users posted flashing or strobing lights as responses to its tweets, and using popular epilepsy-related hashtags, hoping to cause seizures for people who have photosensitive epilepsy and were viewing their posts.

The attacks were carried out last month during the National Epilepsy Awareness Month "when the greatest number of people with epilepsy and seizures were likely to be following the feed," the foundation said. Over 30 different Twitter accounts participated, it said.

"These attacks are no different than a person carrying a strobe light into a convention of people with epilepsy and seizures, with the intention of inducing seizures and thereby causing significant harm to the participants," said Allison Nichol, Esq., director of legal advocacy for the Epilepsy Foundation.

"The fact that these attacks came during National Epilepsy Awareness Month only highlights their reprehensible nature," Nichol said.

"The Foundation is fully cooperating with law enforcement and intends to utilize all available avenues to ensure that those responsible are held fully accountable."

The foundation said the attacks it suffered were similar to the attacks involving journalist and book author Kurt Eichenwald.

In 2016, a Twitter user sent Eichenwald a tweet with an animated strobe light and the message "you deserve a seizure for your posts" after the journalist made some remarks about President Donald Trump on Tucker Carlson's Fox News show.

The Twitter reply induced a seizure and Eichenwald was bed-ridden for days. The journalist filed a criminal complaint in the days following the attack.

The Twitter user was eventually identified as Maryland-based John Rayne Rivello, and charged with felony assault. According to a recent report, the man is expected to plead guilty.

The Epilepsy Foundation and others have long argued that social media networks like Twitter or Facebook should disable auto-playing videos and GIFs. The foundation lists instructions on how users can turn off auto-playing media on social media and in web browsers.