- The Epilepsy Foundation filed criminal complaints outlining an attack that allowed posts on its Twitter feed designed to trigger seizures in people with epilepsy.
- The attacks are similar to one in 2016 on journalist Kurt Eichenwald, who had a seizure when he was sent a message on Twitter that contained a strobe light GIF after he had been openly critical of Donald Trump.
- Eichenwald’s alleged attacker was set to appear in court Monday, but the case was pushed to January. He is still expected to plead guilty to aggravated assault, and the case is likely to set a landmark precedent.
Epilepsy Foundation Cyberattack
The Epilepsy Foundation announced Monday that it filed criminal complaints “outlining a series of attacks on its Twitter feed designed to trigger seizure(s) in people with epilepsy” by posting videos and GIFs that included flashing lights.
“The attacks, which used the Foundation’s Twitter handle and hashtags to post flashing or strobing lights, deliberately targeted the feed during National Epilepsy Awareness Month when the greatest number of people with epilepsy and seizures were likely to be following the feed,” the statement continued.
While it is currently unclear how many people saw or clicked on the GIFs or videos, the foundation’s Twitter account currently has more than 33,000 followers.
According to reports, the foundation reported 30 attacks in the first week of November.
The foundation’s statement also said that the attacks they received were similar to attacks involving a man named Kurt Eichenwald.
Kurt Eichenwald’s Story
Eichenwald is a prominent journalist and author who has been open about the fact that he has epilepsy.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, he had been openly critical of then-candidate Donald Trump both in articles he wrote and posts he made on Twitter.
In December 2016, Eichenwald opened a message on Twitter that contained a strobe light GIF and the words: “YOU DESERVE A SEIZURE FOR YOUR POSTS.”
The GIF immediately caused him to have a seizure. Eichenwald has since said that he would have died if his wife did not find him.
Investigators looked into the attack and the user who sent it, who had the Twitter handle @jew_goldstein. They were eventually able to track the account to a man named John Rivello, who was eventually arrested in March 2017 and charged with the attack.
According to court records, investigators found that Rivello had sent several messages to other users hours before Eichenwald’s attack, including one where he wrote, “I hope this sends him into a seizure” and others where he said “Let’s see if he dies,” and “I know he has epilepsy.”
The court records also said that investigators found a screenshot on Rivello’s iCloud account that showed an edited Wikipedia page for Eichenwald that listed his death date as the day after he received the GIF.
The page also “included some anti-Semitic references” the court documents said. Eichenwald’s father is Jewish.
Eichenwald filed a federal civil lawsuit against Rivello in Maryland, where Rivello lives, and a criminal case in Texas, where Eichenwald lives. The suits accuse Rivello of battery and other charges, including hate-crime enhancement.
After Rivello was arrested, a group of neo-Nazis reportedly came to his defense and started a fundraiser to pay for his legal fees. That group has also argued that the issue at hand is freedom of speech.
While legal experts believe that argument will not hold up in court, the case is still believed to be an important testing ground for the legal limits of free speech and cyber attacks.
Rivello’s lawyers also moved to dismiss the battery claim on the grounds that there was no physical contact. Eichenwald’s lawyer, Steven Lieberman, argued that it was still battery because it still had a physical effect.
“This is an issue of an assault using a new sort of technology,” he said.
Chief Judge James K. Bredar of the U.S. District Court in the District of Maryland who was overseeing the case ultimately agreed with Lieberman, and let the case proceed.
In his decision, Judge Bredar wrote that the “novelty of the mechanism by which the harm was achieved” did not make the actions any less harmful.
Rivello was set to appear in a Dallas County district court on Monday, but at the last minute, the proceedings were rescheduled to Jan. 31. According to reports, Rivello is still expected to plead guilty to aggravated assault.
The timing here is significant. Eichenwald’s case has been widely described as the first— or at least one of the first— of its kind, and is an important test case for these kinds of attacks.
That is also relevant because the Epilepsy Foundation announced its criminal charges involving similar attacks the day that the sentence was supposed to be handed down, which makes it clear that they will use this case as a precedent in court moving forward— as will others.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (ZDNet)
Florida School Says Students Vaccinated Against COVID-19 Must Stay Home for 30 Days
The school falsely claimed that people who have just been vaccinated risk “shedding” the coronavirus and could infect others.
Centner Academy Vaccination Policy
A private school in Florida is now requiring all students who get vaccinated against COVID-19 to quarantine for 30 days before returning to class.
According to the local Miami outlet WSVN, Centner Academy wrote a letter to parents last week describing COVID vaccines as “experimental” and citing anti-vaccine misinformation.
“If you are considering the vaccine for your Centner Academy student(s), we ask that you hold off until the Summer when there will be time for the potential transmission or shedding onto others to decrease,” the letter reportedly stated.
“Because of the potential impact on other students and our school community, vaccinated students will need to stay at home for 30 days post-vaccination for each dose and booster they receive and may return to school after 30 days as long as the student is healthy and symptom-free.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has debunked the false claim that those newly vaccinated against COVID-19 can “shed” the virus.
According to the agency’s COVID myths page, vaccine shedding “can only occur when a vaccine contains a weakened version of the virus,” but “none of the authorized COVID-19 vaccines in the United States contain the live virus that causes COVID-19. This means that a COVID-19 vaccine cannot make you sick with COVID-19.”
In fact, early research has suggested that vaccinated people are less likely to spread the virus than unvaccinated people.
Beyond that, unvaccinated people are more likely to spread COVID in general because they are much more likely to get the virus than vaccinated people. According to recently published CDC data, as of August, unvaccinated people were six times more likely to get COVID than vaccinated people and 11 times more likely to die from the virus.
Centner Academy Continues Spread of Misinformation
In a statement to The Washington Post Monday, Centner Academy co-founder David Centner doubled down on the school’s new policy, which he described as a “precautionary measure” based on “numerous anecdotal cases that have been in circulation.”
“The school is not opining as to whether unexplained phenomena have a basis in fact, however we prefer to err on the side of caution when making decisions that impact the health of the school community,” he added.
The new rule echoes similar efforts Centner Academy has made that run counter to public health guidance and scientific knowledge.
In April, the school made headlines when its leadership told vaccinated school employees that they were not allowed to be in contact with any students “until more information is known” and encouraged employees to wait until summer to get the jab.
According to The New York Times, the following week, a math and science teacher allegedly told students not to hug their vaccinated parents for more than five seconds.
The outlet also reported that the school’s other co-founder, Leila Centner, discouraged masking, but when state health officials came for routine inspections, teachers said they were directed in a WhatsApp group to put masks on.
See what others are saying: (WSVN) (The Washington Post) (Business Insider)
Katie Couric Says She Edited Ruth Bader Ginsburg Quote About Athletes Kneeling During National Anthem
Couric said she omitted part of a 2016 interview in order to “protect” the justice.
Kate Couric Edited Quote From Justice Ginsburg
In her upcoming book, journalist Katie Couric admitted to editing a quote from Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg in 2016 in order to “protect” Ginsberg from potential criticism.
Couric interviewed the late justice for an article in Yahoo News. During their discussion, she asked Ginsburg about her thoughts on athletes like Colin Kaepernick kneeling for the national anthem to protest racial inequality.
“I think it’s really dumb of them,” Ginsburg is quoted saying in the piece. “Would I arrest them for doing it? No. I think it’s dumb and disrespectful. I would have the same answer if you asked me about flag burning. I think it’s a terrible thing to do, but I wouldn’t lock a person up for doing it. I would point out how ridiculous it seems to me to do such an act.”
According to The Daily Mail and The New York Post, which obtained advance copies of Couric’s book “Going There,” there was more to Ginsburg’s response. Couric wrote that she omitted a portion where Ginsburg said the form of protest showed a “contempt for a government that has made it possible for their parents and grandparents to live a decent life…Which they probably could not have lived in the places they came from.“
Couric Says She Lost Sleep Making Choice
“As they became older they realize that this was youthful folly,” Ginsberg reportedly continued. “And that’s why education is important.“
According to The Daily Mail, Couric wrote that the Supreme Court’s head of public affairs sent an email asking to remove comments about kneeling because Ginsburg had misspoken. Couric reportedly added that she felt a need to “protect” the justice, thinking she may not have understood the question. Couric reached out to her friend, New York Times reporter David Brooks, regarding the matter and he allegedly likewise believed she may have been confused by the subject.
Couric also wrote that she was a “big RBG fan” and felt her comments were “unworthy of a crusader for equality.” Because she knew the remarks could land Ginsburg in hot water, she said she “lost a lot of sleep” and felt “conflicted” about whether or not to edit them out.
Couric was trending on Twitter Wednesday and Thursday as people questioned the ethics behind her choice to ultimately cut part of the quote. Some thought the move showed a lack of journalistic integrity while others thought revealing the story now harmed Ginsburg’s legacy.
See what others are saying: (New York Post) (The Daily Mail) (Insider)
Biden Administration Orders ICE To Halt Workplace Raids
The Department of Homeland Security will now focus on targeting employers who exploit undocumented workers, instead of carrying out raids that dissuade those workers from reporting labor violations.
DHS Reverses Worksite Raid Policy
The Biden administration announced Tuesday that it was ordering Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to stop workplace raids.
The move marks a reversal from Trump administration policies that have been strongly criticized by immigration activists who argue the efforts created fear in immigrant communities and dissuaded them from reporting labor violations or exploitative employment practices.
In addition to stopping the raids, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a memo that the administration will refocus enforcement efforts to instead target “employers who exploit unauthorized workers, conduct illegal activities or impose unsafe working conditions.”
Mayorkas added that the immigration agencies housed in DHS will have the next 60 days to identify harmful existing policies and come up with new ones that provide better deportation protections for workers who report their employers.
In the Tuesday memo, the secretary argued that shift of focus will “reduce the demand for illegal employment by delivering more severe consequences to exploitative employers” and “increase the willingness of workers to report violations of law by exploitative employers and cooperate in employment and labor standards investigation.”
Labor Market Implications
The new policy comes at a time when the U.S. is experiencing a critical labor shortage, including in many sectors that rely on immigrant labor.
Some companies that use undocumented workers pay them wages that are far below the market rate, which is not only exploitative but also undercuts competitors.
According to Mayorkas, the pivot to employer-based enforcement will help protect American businesses.
“By exploiting undocumented workers and paying them substandard wages, the unscrupulous employers create an unfair labor market,” he said in the memo. “They also unfairly drive down their costs and disadvantage their business competitors who abide by the law.”
It is currently unclear how effective the new efforts will be, but historical precedent does not paint an optimistic picture.
The Biden administration’s efforts closely mirror a similar move by the Obama administration, which attempted to reverse workplace raids authorized under President George W. Bush by targetting those who employ undocumented workers rather than the workers themselves.
That effort, however, still led to thousands of undocumented workers being fired.