By Nathan Barton
A recent story states that a Dallas-area media reporter-writer has gotten the FBI to arrest a man in Maryland for sending him a tweet that triggered a epileptic seizure, which was a known hazard for the journalist. The Dallas News reports that Eichenwald’s attorney compared the incident to mailing a bomb or an envelope with anthrax spores to someone. The federal charges are “cyberstalking.”
Based on the reports of evidence supposedly gathered from the accused stalker’s on-line records, it appears to be an actual attempt to do harm to the Dallas reporter/commentator. Eichenwald claims that forty people sent him strobes after they discovered that strobe lights could trigger seizures.
Knowing very little about this, I don’t know whether or not you have to open a tweet in order to see something that clearly is more than a few words (the infamous 140-character with spaces protocol). Can you send videos? A still photo could not (as far as I know) produce a strobe effect. (Apparently you CAN send videos, according to CNN – if you believe CNN.) But I suspect that you have to turn on the video when you receive it.
Clearly, Eichenwald is one of those gullible people recently discussed by Chris Campbell, suffering from one the Six Digital Vices. But just because you can and do dodge the bullet, does that mean that the guy shooting at you was committing a crime? (Or if you dodge the cream pie, should the gal throwing it at you be charged for assault?)
Mama’s Note: As for the “guy shooting at you,” it matters not if he misses. It is still assault with a deadly weapon, and absolutely a crime. The cream pie? Probably an assault as well, unless it is part of a stunt agreed upon by both parties. This cyber strobe thing is a whole new area, I think. But Eichenwald is a total fool if he opens each video or attachment sent to him, and especially after an initial event that might harm him. He has to take full responsibility for any of the subsequent “strobes” he actually watched.
Now obviously, since Eichenwald is still alive, the Maryland guy’s attempt to kill him, and maybe even harm him through a seizure, failed. The attempt happened months ago, it seems. Which raises further questions about whether or not it was a real, serious attempt, or just a way to blow off steam and get the supposed victim riled up. Is it really possible to trigger a severe, life-threatening seizure by way of a strobe tweet? Or is that just an urban legend?
Mama’s Note: It very easily could be a serious trigger for an epileptic seizure, but very few people actually die from such an event, however it is triggered. Sort of like a migraine headache. You think you’ll die and afraid you won’t… but you know going in you won’t.
Maybe it is like making a voodoo doll of someone, and sticking pins in it, or putting it in hot coals or ice – if you believe in sympathetic magic, are you assaulting the person you made the doll to be? Is it a crime if HE also believes in sympathetic magic? If the person dies from fright when he sees or leaned about the pin-stabbing (or worse), is the person doing the pin-poking committing murder?
But back to the main point – is what strobe boy did a crime? Hard to say, I guess.
If someone 2,000 miles a way sends you something that he thinks will harm or even kill you, do you have the right to get government to go after him and try and punish him, or at least stop him from doing it? Assuming that ANY government is legitimate, one of the few “legitimate” functions is to protect people from other people (and organizations, like governments) who what to kill, harm, steal, or otherwise deny them rights (you know, like life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (which includes the right to own things!). Even most libertarians would say yes.
But where do you draw the line?
A few years back, an objector to mining sand and gravel on a property (by the owner and his partners) claimed that the reason THAT particular piece of property was being mined is because:
a. The guy wanting to do the mining hated his (rather distant) cousin (who was the live-in lover of the objector who lived downstream from the site
b. The guy hated his cousin so much he wanted to kill him.
c. The cousin had a bad heart condition.
d. Too much iron in the water you drink can trigger serious complications of certain heart conditions (including the one the cousin had) and can lead to premature death.
e. By mining the sand, the natural iron present in the deposits would be exposed to water and the water would dissolve the iron, raising the level of dissolved iron in the river water.
f. The cousin’s drinking water supply came from the river downstream of the sand mining, and would therefore have a higher iron content, which would soon kill the cousin.
The objectors even had doctors and other experts to support this chain of cause and effect. The state agency (and county government) responsible for issuing permits for the mining required the applicant to take and analyze samples of water to see if the iron content of the water increased enough to reach the levels which would trigger (either short term or long term) the fatal heart condition. It did not, but only at unexpected fairly high cost to prove otherwise.
Apparently, today, the objector would only have to file federal charges of assault or attempted assault and attempted murder to get the guy who wanted to mine (and all of us ‘co-conspirators’) arrested and tried for these crimes.
That may not be a great analogy to this tweet-seizure case. I’m sure my readers can think of better. But the point is NOT whether it is possible to injure or harm someone by doing something that may or may not make sense. The point is whether or not that is (a) really aggression which could physically harm a person enough to possibly kill him, and (b) whether that is really something that is serious enough that multiple governments should use money stolen from taxpayers to pursue, prosecute, and punish?
Although I don’t know the answer (and am asking my readers for their thoughts), my first inclination is to think how ridiculous and silly this is. Setting aside questions of legitimacy of government and stealing tax money from people, doesn’t the FBI supposedly have better things to do? And really, doesn’t this journalist have better things to do than quiver in fear that someone hates him so much that they’d try something outlandish like this to get back at him? I do not see the logic of the attorney claiming that this is no different than a letter bomb or an anthrax letter.
One thing this does show is how incredibly uncivil, hate-filled, and divided our 21st Century society in the Fifty States has become.