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Epilepsy Foundation Twitter Targeted in Cyberattack With Seizure Inducing Posts

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  • 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.”

Source: Eichenwald v. Rivello Court Records

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.

Lawsuits

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)

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Bodycam Footage Shows Officer Arresting Six-Year-Old At School

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  • Attorneys for the family of a 6-year-old girl released bodycam footage of an Orlando school resource officer arresting the young child.
  • The video shows the girl getting handcuffed with zip ties and sobbing as she pleads with the officers to let her go.
  • The officer made national headlines in September when he arrested that child as well as another 6-year-old in a separate incident that same day.
  • He was fired a week later because he failed to get the necessary permission from his department to arrest children under the age of 12.

Newly-Released Footage

Bodycam footage of a 6-year-old girl being arrested by a former Orlando police officer was recently released to the public by the attorney of the child’s family. 

The incident took place in September 2019 and led to the termination of the officer, Dennis Turner, a week later. The newly-released video shows Kaia Rolle reading a book with a school employee when two officers enter the room. 

“Okay, she’s going to have to come with us now,” Dennis Turner can be heard saying. 

“What are those for?” the little girl asked when she saw the zip ties. 

“It’s for you,” Turner responded, as the other officer put them around Rolle’s wrists. She immediately started crying and pleading for help, even begging the men for “a second chance.” 

Rolle’s sobbing continued as the officers led her outside toward the police car. 

“I don’t want to go to the police car,” she said through tears. 

“You don’t want to?” the officer who handcuffed her said. “You have to.”

After Rolle is put into the back of the vehicle to be taken to the Juvenile Assessment Center, the footage shows Turner back in the school. An employee asked him if the restraints on the child were necessary.

“Yes,” Turner replied. “And if she was bigger she would’ve been wearing regular handcuffs.”

The officer then added that the youngest person he’s ever arrested was seven-years-old. He continued with details and said that he’s arrested 6,000 people over the course of his career.

“She’s six?” Turner said when one of the school staff members told him Rolle’s age. “Now she has broken the record.”

Background

The police report states that the officers were responding to a complaint that Rolle had “battered three staff members by kicking and punching them” at her charter school, Lucious and Emma Nixon Academy. 

The child’s grandmother, Meralyn Kirkland, told WKMG in September that Rolle suffers from a sleep disorder, sleep apnea, and had acted out as a result of not enough rest the previous night.  

Rolle was not the only child Turner arrested that day last September. In a separate incident, he also arrested another 6-year-old from the same school.

Dennis Turner had been working as the school’s resource officer. He retired from the Orlando Police Department in 2018 and was assigned to the Officer Reserve Program, which is made up of retired officers, according to the Orlando Sentinel.  

It is department policy that officers must get approval from a superior before arresting anyone under the age of 12. Turner did not get that approval before he proceeded with the arrest of both the children. 

The officer’s arrest of the six-year-olds made national headlines and sparked outrage from many across the country. An investigation into the incidents was opened and Turner was terminated from his job. The department told WKMG that the other officer, who is seen putting the zip ties on Rolle, was not aware that protocol was not followed. State Attorney Aramis Ayala said at a news conference in September that she would not be pursuing the charges against either child.

“I refuse to knowingly play any role in the school-to-prison pipeline at any age,” Ayala said. “These very young children are to be protected, nurtured and disciplined in a manner that does not rely on the criminal justice system to do it.” 

See what others are saying: (WKMG) (NBC) (WESH)

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The School-To-Prison Pipeline Debate: SROs & Why Student Arrests Are Increasing…

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The existence of the school-to-prison pipeline has been debated for decades. The term is pretty self-explanatory, but it describes how children are funneled from schools to prisons through multiple school discipline and safety initiatives like zero-tolerance policies and school resource officers. The issue isn’t black and white because while there appears to be evidence, like the decrease in juvenile arrest rates, that suggest it isn’t a problem, there’s more to the story.

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Tik Tok “Skull Breaker” Challenge Leading to Severe Injuries

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  • Tik Tok has seen a new viral challenge that involves a person getting tricked into jumping into the air while two others kick their legs out from under them, causing them to fall onto the ground.
  • Multiple young people have suffered injuries as a result of the challenge, and it has been reported that one Brazilian teenager died.  
  • Concerned parents are striving to raise awareness of the dangers of the trend, and one student even started a non-profit organization to combat pranking and bullying after falling victim to the challenge herself.

Dangerous Online Trend

A new trend is making its rounds on the popular app Tik Tok— one that has led to serious injuries and received backlash from concerned parents.   

The “skull breaker” challenge involves three people standing in a line, shoulder to shoulder, under the pretense that all of them will jump into the air at the same time. But instead, only the middle person jumps while the two people flanking them kick their legs out from under them, causing them to slam into the ground. In most cases it appears that the middle person is tricked into the challenge, unaware that they will be knocked over.

The danger of the “skull breaker” challenge can be found in its name, as it quite literally has the potential to crack people’s heads open. Doctors are warning that it can result in broken bones, concussions, and brain bleeding, among other injuries. 

Tik Tok has expressed their disapproval of the challenge. The app told ABC News that the safety of their users is a top priority and they “do not allow content that encourages or replicates dangerous challenges that might lead to injury.”

Awareness Growing 

This new online fad is the latest dangerous trend among young people, akin to the Tide Pod challenge and the viral Tik Tok “outlet challenge” that prompted warnings from fire officials. A Brazilian teenager reportedly died from the “skull breaker” challenge, and more youth around the world have been seriously hurt.  

The recent virtual trend raised eyebrows in Daytona Beach, Florida in January, when two students convinced an unsuspecting third female student to perform the challenge for Tik Tok content. 

According to the Daytona Beach News Journal, the video has since been deleted. The News Journal reported that the victim’s parents were originally going to let the school handle it but ultimately decided to press charges. The Daytona Beach Police Department told TODAY that two students are facing misdemeanor charges of battery and cyberbullying as a result of the prank.    

On Feb. 8, an Arizona woman posted images of her injured son to Facebook, reporting a head injury as well as stitches and cuts to his face that stemmed from the skull breaker challenge.

“My son was asked to do a jumping contest with his 2 ‘friends,’ when he jumped up, the 2 boys kicked him, as hard as they could, so his legs flew out in front of him,” Valerie Hodson wrote. “He landed hard flat on his back and head, as he struggled to get up he lost consciousness, he fell forward landing on his face.”

“I really contemplated posting this, but I feel there needs to be awareness of this malicious cruel viral prank,” Hodson said.

Facebook: Valerie Hodson

Hodson’s son is not the only child to be hospitalized due to the skull breaker challenge. Teri Smith, a woman located in Alabama, also took to Facebook to discuss her son’s broken bones after falling victim to the prank.

“Prayers needed… Parker was unknowingly tiktok pranked which caused him to fall,” Smith wrote. 

Facebook: Teri Wimmer Smith

Similar pushes for awareness have been seen as impacts of the challenge have been felt by others around the country. In Portland, Oregon, 14-year-old Olivia Ross said she hit her head hard on the ground after she was tricked into the challenge by two seniors at her high school. 

“They just told me we were going to jump for a video. Of course I was excited since they were upperclassmen and they were asking me to be in their video,” Ross told KOIN 6. “But I didn’t know what was going to happen.”

Ross and her mother, Lindsay Zobrist, decided the best course of action was to spread awareness of these types of viral pranks because they expect that many kids don’t know how dangerous they can be. They created a non-profit organization called Teaching Kindness Matters and are working to get school districts to include “pranking” in their definition of bullying. 

See what others are saying: (TODAY) (Forbes) (ABC13)

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