Do you recall what you were doing on Dec. 15 last year? It was a Friday, the last full weekend before Christmas. I suspect many were decorating, shopping, standing in line at the post office with out-of-town gifts to mail, baking, attending parties, or watching Hallmark Channel’s annual wall-to-wall holiday movies.
Also on that day, a man loaded up a strobe flashing image in a Tweet to Pulitzer Prize-nominated journalist Kurt Eichenwald with the message “You deserve a seizure for your posts!” The Tweet did cause Eichenwald, a known epileptic, to have a near-fatal seizure.
Last Friday, the FBI arrested a Maryland man and charged him with cyberstalking. According to federal cyberstalking statutes, the penalty, if convicted, could be 10 years in prison. Had Eichenwald died, his stalker could have faced life in prison.
For those wondering if this is “fake news,” it is not. The FBI’s press release is easily accessible. In it, the FBI says their investigation found posts to other Twitter users including a particularly malicious (my opinion) post saying”…Let’s see if he dies.” The FBI also found the accused’s iCloud account to contain a fake obituary for the victim stating his death occurred on Dec. 16, 2016.
It gets worse. Since that incident just over three months ago, Eichenwald has received 40 more strobe attacks on Twitter. Every two to three days, someone is actively trying to hurt, even kill, him.
Eichenwald is an experienced investigative reporter. As an example, he wrote about a pharmaceutical company that knowingly sold a fungal-tainted steroid that caused meningitis. The fact a federal grand jury indicted 14 company employees on charges including murder, racketeering, fraud and conspiracy could not bring back those who eventually died among those who were sickened, 19 people from Michigan and 16 from Tennessee, the two states with the highest numbers of deaths resulting from the poisoned medicine, according to Eichenwald’s story. In fact, a federal jury in Boston is currently deliberating the fate of the company’s former CEO.
More recently, Eichenwald wrote about then-candidate, now-president Donald Trump. He wrote extensively about the potential conflicts the Trump Organization’s business dealings could mean for U.S. international relationships and foreign policy. He also wrote about possible Russian ties to campaign staff and other Trump associates. Apparently, this is what prompted the near-fatal strobe Tweet, according to reports.
At this point, we are all well aware some news organizations, and some newspeople, tilt for or against the president and his administration. We see anger bubbling out on both sides. Personally, I have no problem with debate about proposed legislation, budgets or executive orders. Debate about issues is not new. I do have a problem with someone – anyone – attempting to hurt or kill someone who airs or writes an opposing view. Each time this happens, we become a little less free, and perhaps a lot more fearful about what may come of our future and America’s future.
Eichenwald is an adult and he has the wherewithal – experientially and financially – to fight off his predators. At least, I hope so. However, I really worry about others who are cyberstalking victims, especially kids and teens.
According to the Cyberbullying Research Center’s most recent survey on bullying and cyberbullying, 17 percent of students ages 12-17 have been cyberbullied in the past 30 days. For the record, the researchers define a cyberbully as one who “repeatedly threatens, harasses, mistreats, or makes fun of another person (on purpose) online or while using cell phones or other electronic devices.” So we are not talking about a single episode of name-calling or mocking. The emphasis is on “repeated” incidents. Taking from the report, “Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of the students who experienced cyberbullying stated it really affected their ability to learn and feel safe at school.” Researchers were also able to show that a majority of kids who are bullied online are also bullied while at school.
In another report released earlier this year, researchers said that “10% of the students we surveyed (2,750,000 students in the U.S.) said they stayed home from school because of bullying online (1.2%, or 300,000, ‘many times’).” Those numbers are based on numbers from childstats.gov indicating there are 25 million students ages 12-17 in the U.S.
This is not “a phase kids go through” that can be ignored or blown off. Parents, schools, police and juvenile authorities have programs, policies and laws in place to address these issues. Yet, each year, the problem reoccurs. Human behavior is complicated and imperfect.
Kids need our help. Dozens from across the U.S. told portions of their stories on the Cyberbullying Research Center’s website, including these two Ohio kids:
“…If you are being bullied don’t be afraid to tell an adult don’t take matters into your hands don’t let bullying happen if you see it tell an adult.” – 16-year-old girl from OH
“i got cyber bullied after i got surgery on my knee & it was horrible they always said go die & your worthless why are you here? You’re wasting air. it made me so depressed and i thought of suicide plenty of times but i wasn’t going to let them get to me so i deleted all of them…”
She continues, “this stuff is still going on I wish it would just stop.” – 13-year-old girl from OH
All caring adults must stand up against all forms of bullying. If we tuck our heads and insist it is someone else’s problem to solve, kids – and some adults, too – will continue to be needlessly hurt. Some will struggle in school. Others will struggle in the workplace. Some will die. If you know adult or kid cyberbullies, block them. Unfriend them. Report them to social media sites. Report them to authorities. They are every bit as poisonous as those tainted drugs.