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

70 comments

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Marie W3 months ago

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Stephanie Y8 months ago

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Paulo R8 months ago

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KimJ ManyIssues8 months ago

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KimJ ManyIssues8 months ago

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Past Member 8 months ago

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Carl R8 months ago

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