Twitter Blocks Animated PNGs After A Bunch Of Shitbirds Spend National Epilepsy Month Harassing Epileptics

from the you'll-never-go-broke-underestimating-the-quality-of-humans-on-the-internet dept

Assaulting someone with a tweet can be a criminal act. It takes a whole lot of specifics to make it a crime, but some asshole named John Rivello managed to do just that when he sent strobe gifs to Kurt Eichenwald and apparently sent him into a seizure.

Rivello did all of this under the horrible (and stupid) alias of @jew_goldstein. He also left behind a nice digital paper trial for investigators, which tied the account he used to send the strobe gifs to Eichenwald. Rivello may have used a Tracfone card to set up the accounts he used to harass Eichenwald, but these were all linked to his iPhone and his iCloud account, which helpfully included a photo of Rivello holding up his drivers license.

On top of that, investigators found a bunch of DMs to other Twitter accounts stating his intent to send Eichenwald into a seizure in hopes of killing him. So, it can be a crime to send strobe gifs to epileptics, but it takes a whole lot of work to make it a chargeable offense.

The Epilepsy Foundation is hoping law enforcement can find similar statements of intent elsewhere. During National Epilepsy Month, a bunch of people who are using far more oxygen than they deserve sent out hundreds of tweets containing strobe gifs and videos, utilizing the Foundation's Twitter handle and related hashtags. The Foundation points out that only a small percentage of epileptics are photosensitive, but any triggered seizure can carry the risk of serious injury or death.

The Foundation's post doesn't say where these complaints have been filed or provide any other details. It obviously poses some First Amendment issues in that it's asking for the prosecution of speech, but if there's enough evidence indicating some of these dirtbags were actively seeking to harm other people, First Amendment concerns will be minimal.

This brings us to another attack vector, albeit one that wasn't used in these attacks: animated PNGs. These series of images stitched together to form an animated whole would allow harassers to route around protections photosensitive epileptics used to protect themselves, like preventing autoplay of video or gif content. Twitter may not be able to do much to prevent the uploading of video and gifs containing strobe images, but it can block APNGs, which is what it is now doing.

Twitter is banning animated PNG image files (APNGs) from its platform, after an attack on the Epilepsy Foundation’s Twitter account sent out similar animated images that could potentially cause seizures in photosensitive people.

Twitter discovered a bug that allowed users to bypass its autoplay settings, and allow several animated images in a single tweet using the APNG file format.

The APNG bug has been exploited in the past, mainly to animate avatars. It apparently was not used to target epileptics during this particularly nasty exhibition of human nature, but degenerates who may have considered it a future option no longer have this exploit to work with.

No doubt someone with too much time and not enough moral fiber will find some other way to attempt to provoke seizures using nothing more than 1s and 0s, but for now, the most popular options are either closed off by built-in options or Twitter's brand new APNG blockade.

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Filed Under: animated pngs, epilepsy, harassment, trolling
Companies: twitter


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Jan 2020 @ 1:45pm

    I didn't even know APNG was processed as animated with any regularity. So the twitter app and many/all browsers properly render APNG now?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      James Burkhardt (profile), 6 Jan 2020 @ 1:56pm

      Re:

      Twitter is banning animated PNG image files (APNGs) from its platform, after an attack on the Epilepsy Foundation’s Twitter account sent out similar animated images that could potentially cause seizures in photosensitive people.
      Twitter discovered a bug that allowed users to bypass its autoplay settings, and allow several animated images in a single tweet using the APNG file format.

      Twitter blocks APNG now, because they aren't able to block autoplay. It may return when they can stop the animation (its not clear from their statement) but for now they blocked them entirely. Its quoted in the article.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 6 Jan 2020 @ 3:29pm

        Re: Re:

        My question was more, "i didn't think anyone implemented the standard, or that the ability to view an animated PNG was spotty at best". That is, not that anyone blocked them as twitter now does, but that it simply was not even an option to view them in most software where images are rendered. The ability to create them in some applications has been around for ages. Viewing them in general, not so much. Was wondering when that changed.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    TKnarr (profile), 6 Jan 2020 @ 1:48pm

    Video can be handled at the browser/client end. Most browsers now decline to autoplay video content, solving that problem. The Twitter client should be set the same by default, solving the problem in the app. GIFs should be handled the same way APNG is, the client simply only displays the first "frame" and not any subsequence updates unless and until the user clicks on the image and requests it to be animated. Ditto with audio, clients should by default mute audio unless and until the user enables it.

    Basically anything serving up user-generated content should assume such content is hostile/malicious until told otherwise by the recipient.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Thad (profile), 6 Jan 2020 @ 1:50pm

      Re:

      From the article:

      These series of images stitched together to form an animated whole would allow harassers to route around protections photosensitive epileptics used to protect themselves, like preventing autoplay of video or gif content.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 6 Jan 2020 @ 8:17pm

        Re: Re:

        I just tested image.animation_mode=none in Firefox, with the animation from the APNG Wikipedia page. It works as expected: the image does not animate. The article isn't specific about what's broken. What "protections" are being bypassed? Did some other browser provide a similar feature but forget to implement it for APNG?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That Anonymous Coward (profile), 6 Jan 2020 @ 1:58pm

      Re:

      All gifs are turned into mp4 videos.
      The problem is they didn't pay attention to APNGs.
      They sailed past the platforms user controls.
      They weren't used enough that anyone noticed what was going on, and while I think the shitlords who would wanted to have abused it suck, it really focused attention on the issue.

      Much like facial rec tech coders, unless you have someone of color to raise issues, your code thinks 'they all look a like'.

      Until something bad happens, no one considers the holes in the system b/c it never affected them. "Differently Abeled" people occasionally get trotted out for some things, but the focus is coding for the 90% & only considering the other 10% (yes I made up numbers, shut up) after someones on the floor convulsing.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      James Burkhardt (profile), 6 Jan 2020 @ 1:58pm

      Re:

      Also From The article and Twitter's statement quoted in the article:

      Twitter discovered a bug that allowed users to bypass its autoplay settings, and allow several animated images in a single tweet using the APNG file format.

      The entire reason twitter banned APNG is because they can't fully block them from autoplaying due to a bug.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        JoeCool (profile), 6 Jan 2020 @ 3:12pm

        Re: Re:

        So fix the bug. Banning APNG rather than fixing a known bug is stupid.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Thad (profile), 6 Jan 2020 @ 3:19pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          So fix the bug.

          And what do you propose they do to mitigate the problem until the bug is fixed?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 6 Jan 2020 @ 3:35pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            They banned APNG long after the incident. Certainly the bug could be handled already. Not that one shouldn't block them until there is a patch, it's that a patch should hardly take very long. If it is difficult, then they have bigger problems with their code than handling animated images.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              R.H. (profile), 6 Jan 2020 @ 8:17pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              Twitter's current method for controlling autoplay is that GIFs are turned into MP4 video which is then controlled by a video player (videos are simply in the video player from the start). APNG is a format that isn't designed to be turned into video as easily as a GIF so they won't work with the same libraries that are in use now. Also, unlike GIF, APNG files tend to be smaller than their respective videos so libraries to simply turn APNG into mp4 are much less mature than the same libraries for GIF.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Phoenix84 (profile), 6 Jan 2020 @ 1:59pm

      Re:

      Agreed.
      This is like "someone assaulted someone with a spoon, ban all spoons!"

      I'd argue that banning APNG is a quick solution to roll out for safety, until a proper filter is actually developed. However I'd only accept that if a better solution is being developed.

      Though, I will say, like the user above, I'm surprised APNG actually works anywhere. Last time I looked into animated PNGs, MNG was the format being pushed. Which also didn't have good browser support.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 6 Jan 2020 @ 2:18pm

        Spoons are already illegal

        They're street drug paraphernalia. Addicts can sniff cocaine out of them... and that brings them afoul of the drug laws. They're probably also burglary tools, or some such...

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Phoenix84 (profile), 6 Jan 2020 @ 4:11pm

          Re: Spoons are already illegal

          Lol, I was actually going to say fork first, then changed it to spoon. As I remember you can stab people with a fork. I didn't think of the other uses for spoons.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Thad (profile), 6 Jan 2020 @ 2:53pm

        Re: Re:

        Though, I will say, like the user above, I'm surprised APNG actually works anywhere.

        Which makes it actually a fuck of a lot different from spoons.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Stephen T. Stone (profile), 6 Jan 2020 @ 3:07pm

        I'm surprised APNG actually works anywhere.

        I’d be more surprised if Twitter has plans for WebP images, animated or static.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Madd the Sane (profile), 6 Jan 2020 @ 4:07pm

        Re: Re:

        Apple added support for APNGs with an update to iOS awhile back. I think iOS 8 added APNG support.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 7 Jan 2020 @ 1:33am

        Re: Re:

        "This is like "someone assaulted someone with a spoon, ban all spoons!""

        Not really, as you later say:

        "I'm surprised APNG actually works anywhere"

        If the format doesn't work in most places, why should Twitter put the extra work into supporting it rather than just removing it from their list of supported formats? This isn't like banning spoons, it's like banning some obscure variation on a spork.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Jan 2020 @ 2:14pm

    Rapidly strobing images are annoying either way. I would ban them even if they didn't harm epileptics.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 6 Jan 2020 @ 2:14pm

    I’d like to think one of the main reasons APNGs spread so quick after the bug was discovered is because Twitter didn’t convert them into videos. One of the longest-standing complaints about Twitter GIFs is that people can’t save them as GIFs.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Jan 2020 @ 5:15pm

    It obviously poses some First Amendment issues in that it's asking for the prosecution of speech

    Why? Speech that is inherently harmful per se has never been protected by the First Amendment. That's why we have perfectly valid laws against obscenity, defamation, etc. When "speech" (images, in this case) is used to directly assault people by deliberately attempting to hack their nervous system, why should any reasonable person think it enjoys First Amendment protection?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Jan 2020 @ 5:26pm

      Re:

      Maybe read the rest of the sentence?

      It obviously poses some First Amendment issues in that it's asking for the prosecution of speech, but if there's enough evidence indicating some of these dirtbags were actively seeking to harm other people, First Amendment concerns will be minimal.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Jan 2020 @ 5:50am

      Re:

      Because strobing lights are not harmful per se, as can be easily verified in a vast number of dance clubs all around the world (among thousands of other examples). Thus, the issue is not the speech itself (e.g. obscenity and defamation laws) but rather the intentional delivery of that speech to a specific person.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 7 Jan 2020 @ 7:11am

        Re: Re:

        Like feeding peanut butter to someone who is allergic.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 7 Jan 2020 @ 7:24am

        Re: Re:

        Because strobing lights are not harmful per se,

        Aren't they though? To those specific people that this was being deliberately targeted at, by people with full knowledge of that fact, they are harmful per se. Simply because they're not inherently harmful to human beings in general doesn't change that fact.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 7 Jan 2020 @ 8:54am

          Re: Re: Re:

          No. "harmful per se" means the harm is intrinsic to the phenomena in question. The simplest test is that if you can expose any given person to the phenomena and the phenomena is harmful to them, than it is "harmful per se", but if you can expose some people to the exact same phenomena without harm occurring, then the harm is not intrinsic. Arsenic is "harmful per se." Clean Type A blood transfusions are harmful to people of Type B or O blood, but are not "harmful per se" as people of Type A or AB blood are not harmed. HIV infected Type A blood transfusions are "harmful per se" (yes, even to already HIV infected recipients).

          Note that you yourself admit the problem is that this was being deliberately targeted at, by people with full knowledge of that fact...to specific people. If the speech was "harmful per se" you would not have thought to specify any such thing, as it would have been harmful regardless of who it had been targeted at, or even if it had not been targeted at all.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Jan 2020 @ 7:30pm

    Eh?

    “Kurt eichenwald”

    The hentai guy with a shady history as big as his detractors?

    Oh god I’m rooting for no one in this😀

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Jan 2020 @ 2:37pm

    You can't have free speech without also having trolling, abuse, and hatred.

    The second you regulate speech even in the name of "safety" you've created a slippery slope. I wonder if you're ever going to realize that.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Jan 2020 @ 7:13pm

      Re:

      If you walked up to a photosensitive epileptic and flashed a strobe light in their face with the intent to harm them, that'd be illegal. Doing so via a computer is the same thing. It's a difficult crime to prove, but once proven, it IS a crime.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Jan 2020 @ 8:03pm

      Re:

      Private people and companies can curate speech in their houses. That is their First Amendment right. The government didn't regulate anything.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Smartassicus the Roman, 7 Jan 2020 @ 10:41pm

    So

    So, if a few people are allergic to peanuts, nobody can have peanuts?

    Got it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      bhull242 (profile), 9 Jan 2020 @ 11:13pm

      Re: So

      No, it’s more like, “If our customers are using peanuts in our store to harass and harm people allergic to peanuts and we can’t otherwise prevent it, then no one can bring peanuts to our store.”

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 10 Jan 2020 @ 1:51am

        Re: Re: So

        a.k.a. what happens all over the place already. If there's a kid who's severely allergic in a school, parents are advised not to make peanut butter sandwiches for their kids. If there's someone severely allergic on a plane, the staff will tell you they're not serving peanuts on that flight, etc.

        One of the fun things about this subject is people making analogies to hypothetical worse case scenarios, not realising they are indeed referring to things that already happen.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    R/O/G/S bin Hotep, 9 Jan 2020 @ 1:19am

    re: wut check?!

    From NPR, in re Eichenwalds strange fascination and conduct with pubescent boys:

    Sex, Checks and 'The New York Times'

    “You know, I've been under deadline stress before. But never to the point I've forgotten about a two-grand check I've written to a kiddie porn star. Eichenwald did assure the Times that except for one further $10 transaction through a PayPal account, the two grand were the only funds exchanged with Berry.”

    Then, theres this jewel of hypocrisy, as Kurt “the Crybully” Eichenwald cyberstalks and bullies a teen boy who survived the Parkland shooting:

    *Kurt Eichenwald got into a Direct Message [DM] fight with teenager Kyle Kashuv and then showed the exchange to a psychiatrist to try and evaluate his mental state. He has a conspiracy theory about the kid and is warning the media he is out to get them all.

    All while this strange man was tweeting this crazy stuff, he painted himself as a victim.

    The strange writer dude also contacted conservative Ben Shapiro because Shapiro has been a supporter of the pro-2nd Amendment kid Kyle Kashuv.

    After the DM fight, Eichenwald sent a bizarre email to Ben Shapiro Tuesday morning, laying out the conspiracy theory about Kashuv, whom he described as being in need of psychiatric help and attempting to conspire against all journalists.

    He thinks the teen has sent “bots” and “trolls” out to get him.*

    https://www.independentsentinel.com/kurt-eichenwald-warns-media-a-teen-parkland-survivor-is-ou t-to-get-them-all/

    Paranoid much, Kurt? Are you on your meds? And exactly WUT is your thing with teenaged boys?

    Sincerely,

    A cyberstalking victim of #crybullies

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      bhull242 (profile), 9 Jan 2020 @ 11:14pm

      Re: re: wut check?!

      Irrelevant.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Techdirt Online Mobbing, 10 Jan 2020 @ 7:10am

        Re: irrelevant, in your not relevant opinion

        Hull, over the course of two weeks, you have admitted complete ignorance about the most basic things :

        • CVE Programs of manufactured terrorism

        • complete ignorance of the language, purpose, and scope of influence operations
        • complete ignorance about basic public relations

        • even the most basic facts of the term incel, and its connection to the LGBT community

        • zero knowledge of what demonstrative speech even is

        • what is a Hotep /etc.

        • much more (far too much to list herein -anyone can read your comment history for that information )

        So, please, stop responding to my comments, wherein your every comment entails yet another "I dont even know what that means ” on your part, much less about what damage Eichenwalds behavior has done to journalism as a respectable profession; nor the massive PR drive behind his attempts to be seen as reputable, when he simply doesnt deserve it.

        You are just not looking very smart, Hull, and simply cant make the most basic connections.

        Derail much?

        Not that I think its a good idea to send the guy a strobe light, but frankly, his victimhood is a distraction in my opinion, as,a,result of his bad behavior, lies and hypocrisy.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Techdirt Online Mobbing, 10 Jan 2020 @ 7:14am

        Re: irrelevant, in your not relevant opinion

        Hull, over the course of two weeks, you have admitted complete ignorance about the most basic things :

        • CVE Programs of manufactured terrorism

        • complete ignorance of the language, purpose, and scope of influence operations
        • complete ignorance about basic public relations

        • even the most basic facts of the term incel, and its connection to the LGBT community

        • zero knowledge of what demonstrative speech even is

        • what is a Hotep /etc.

        • much more (far too much to list herein -anyone can read your comment history for that information )

        So, please, stop responding to my comments, wherein your every comment entails yet another "I dont even know what that means ” on your part, much less about what damage Eichenwalds behavior has done to journalism as a respectable profession; nor the massive PR drive behind his attempts to be seen as reputable, when he simply doesnt deserve it.

        You are just not looking very smart, Hull, and simply cant make the most basic connections.

        Derail much?

        Not that I think its a good idea to send the guy a strobe light, but frankly, his victimhood is a distraction in my opinion, as,a,result of his bad behavior, lies and hypocrisy.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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