DALLAS (AP) — A Newsweek reporter who has epilepsy said he had a seizure after being sent a message on Twitter intended to trigger such an episode and is seeking information from the social media company to identify the person responsible for the tweet.
The image in question — which included a strobe effect and the words, “You deserve a seizure for your posts” — was apparently sent in response to Kurt Eichenwald’s outspoken criticism of President-elect Donald Trump. Eichenwald, who has a home in Texas, said in court documents that the image triggered a seizure.
Eichenwald posted a signed copy of a Dallas County District Court order to Twitter on Tuesday that allows him to depose Twitter executives and orders the company to preserve any information or documents regarding the person who sent the image. Eichenwald wrote that “Twitter agreed to an expedited order,” meaning the company won’t challenge the request for information. Eichenwald is seeking the information for a potential lawsuit, likely against the person who sent the tweet since court document say he doesn’t plan to sue Twitter.
A Twitter representative said via email that the company does not comment on individual accounts or investigations. Guidelines for law enforcement listed on the company’s website include a requirement for a court order or subpoena before it releases user information.
The deposition request, filed Monday, said that Twitter suspended the account of @jew_goldstein “upon learning of the assault.” The sender had identified him or herself with the alias Ari Goldstein.
The sender “succeeded in his effort to use Twitter as a means of committing assault, causing Petitioner to have a seizure which led to personal injury,” Eichenwald’s attorneys wrote.
Eichenwald’s attorney didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment Tuesday. Eichenwald did not immediately return an email seeking comment.
Eichenwald told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that he has received numerous copycat strobe messages from “people who identify themselves as Trump supporters” and that he is reporting each of them to Twitter to ask that their accounts be suspended.
“It is amazing to me that simply because I am a political reporter, simply because I write about Donald Trump that we have become so sick and twisted in this country that people think they have the right and obligation to inflict potentially very serious injury,” he said.
Mark Bennett, a Houston criminal defense and free speech attorney, said he believes a lawsuit alleging physical harm from a tweet would be “novel.”
“I don’t know of a case where someone has been sued or prosecuted for speech online causing physical harm,” he said. “It’s a tough sell because there’s a lot of distance between the speech and the injury.”
However, Houston attorney Joe Larsen said Eichenwald doesn’t appear to be challenging the speech.
“I don’t think it’s fair to say (Eichenwald) is saying he was harmed by the form of speech. I don’t think he’s suing about that. I think the ultimate suit will be one for assault,” said Larsen, who is a board member of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas.
Twitter’s transparency report shows more than 2,500 requests for user information were made regarding criminal allegations in the United States in the first six months of this year. The company released some information in 82 percent of those requests, according to the report.