How Can We Stop the Deadly Prank Known as ‘Swatting’?

A Kansas man recently died after someone feuding with another internet user called in a fake hostage situation — and sent a SWAT team to the wrong house.

Allegedly, Southern California video gamer Tyler Barriss meant to send the police to someone he’d been involved with in a bet. He  Instead, he sent them to an unrelated Witchita family, and police shot and killed unarmed 28-year-old father Andrew Finch.

This practice, called “swatting,” is an extreme version of internet trolling that’s incredibly dangerous. According to the FBI, around 400 of these cases happen every year. Finch is the known first person to die from the practice.

Media often report swatting as a prank, but an act of violence is a better description.

While swatting is most prominent in gaming communities, anyone who’s high-profile on the internet is at risk. Outspoken feminists, for instance, are frequently in fear of the practice.

Activist Caitlyn Roper is one. She just wrote in the Huffington Post about how an entire website was dedicated to destroying her. It contained everything from the addresses of her family and friends, to fake pornographic photos and threats to send a SWAT team to her house.

Roper explains how misogyny played a central role:

Women’s experiences in online spaces – particularly those of us who express feminist sentiments – are often characterised by sexist harassment and abuse. We are called bitches, whores and worse; we endure uninvited sexual comments and images, messages encouraging us to suicide, threats of violence and rape and appraisals of our bodies from men contemplating how rapeable we are.

An online aggressor sent a SWAT team to Caroline Sinders‘ mother’s house a few years ago. Sinder is a researcher, interaction designer and artist, as well as a vocal feminist on Twitter.

Congresswoman Katherine Clark spoke out against online trolling and found the police at her home, too — guns drawn. 

But thankfully, people at all levels can prevent swatting from happening.

As the Christian Science Monitor reports, the FBI first issued a warning about swatting a decade ago, warning of callers who “tell tales of hostages about to be executed or bombs about to go off.” The organization recommends people give local police a heads up if they’ve received swatting threats online.

Politicians can pass legislation to crack down on swatting and other forms of internet harassment. Furthermore, we need to take a hard look at police brutality and listen to groups like Black Lives Matter.

Katherin Cross write for The Verge:

As we reflect on this rising wave of internet-facilitated abuse, we should conclude by reflecting on why swatting happens in the first place. Part of its appeal is theatrical: you swat a streamer and then reap “lulz” from seeing a SWAT team burst into their living room or bedroom live on their webcam. But especially for the more vicious harassers that stew in fan communities, it’s a SWAT team’s capacity for violence that really appeals. The police are an extension of their will, a physical manifestation of all the power they think they’re owed. They can hurt people they dislike, or at the very least damage their property — not to mention their sense of safety — with a publicly funded battering ram.

With one phone call, they can wield the lethal weaponry of law enforcement like a cudgel in their personal, petty disputes. And as is so often the case with American police, those guns might just go off.

Photo Credit: Oregon Department of Transportation


Danii P
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Carl R
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Angelflowers D
Angelflowers D4 days ago

Horrendous and dangerous stupidity..

Deborah W
Deborah W6 days ago

SWATTING, an extreme version of internet trolling, a practice begun A DECADE AGO, now logs around 400 cases annually. As usual, media reports these incidents as PRANKS, not the ACTS OF VIOLENCE -- WHICH THEY ARE. POLITICIANS must pass legislation that will quickly end such "pranks". Next need is to track the offenders, levy huge $$$$$ penalties (along with community service when possible), and create or add to an already established nationwide registry of like offenders, so that all will know who they are, by name and deed. AND HERE COMES THE COMMERCIAL ....take a closer look at police brutality and listen to groups like Black Lives Matter.

Chrissie R
Chrissie R6 days ago

hank you for posting.

Stephen Brian
Stephen Brian7 days ago

Revolutionary idea: Have even SWAT teams not jump straight to deadly violence. The primary goal of the police is the protection of the innocent, not the elimination of threats. That is the main difference between the police and the army. Here's another revolutionary idea: VPNs trigger massive lag so nobody uses them while playing online games like that. Just ask for IP Address-records and get the exact location of the person who just wasted police-resources. That is usually also the culprit's home-address.

Elaine W
Elaine W7 days ago

This is an important warning and could save lives.

Janis K
Janis K7 days ago

Thanks for sharing