Monday, January 15, 2018

Don't 'Swat'

Good Monday everyone! Back from PAX South and still looking over my notes, so it may be a few days until can post my annual review. Instead, let's talk about 'swatting.' For the uninitiated, 'swatting' is a harassment tactic where a person or group convinces emergency personnel to send a response team to another person's address. This is done by creating a false report - such as a terror threat, bomb threat, suicide warning, etc. In the U.S., people can be prosecuted with a crime of 'swatting' as a federal offense for misuse of emergency services. California requires pranksters to assume the full cost of dispatching such services, up to $10,000 USD.

Unfortunately that has not deterred people from stopping the practice. Case in point, the recent death of a Kansas man. But we've seen it on Twitch/Mixer streams and YouTube clips. Police breaking down a door, storming in, and stopping someone from gaming.

Why do people do this? What's the psychology behind it?

It's hard to say for certain what people are thinking when they decide to 'swat.' Sometimes it's for payback - i.e. if you're playing against someone who is doing well in a game, and you resent them. Or you want to get recognized by your favorite streamer, so you send a fake 911 call to their door and disrupt what they are doing. It's funny watching them freak out that the police are ripping up their place...right?

It's not.

The rise in 'swatting' hasn't been helpful for emergency services. Instead of focusing their time on real criminal activity, they now have to waste their resources to respond to bogus calls. Unfortunately most police stations are not equipped in being able to determine which calls are real or fake. Part of their duty is to respond to every call. In the fast paced world of technology, a number of public services are still attempting to catch up. We've only recently established some cyber laws within the last 2-3 years, but they still lag behind on the robust system we need. Cyber-bullying, cyber-stalking, cyber-defamation, cyber-anything is not punishable in a number of U.S. states. Police are not equipped with handling how to address people who have been threatened online. And that's why it's easy to pray on emergency services. Because they must respond to each call, 'swatting' is an easy prank with deadly consequences.

Here's the thing peeps: unlike the movies, your call can be traced within seconds. Thankfully it's fairly easy for police to trace a number back and arrest the prankster. In the U.S., that can mean jail time and a hefty fine for abuse of emergency services. But we don't do enough to show the consequences of 'swatting.' Usually it's reserved to the victim. People see it as a joke. The police back down. That's that. What you don't see is all of the property damage, the mental stress from having your house broken into and guns pointed at your face. SWAT is trained to treat everything as a real threat. They will investigate it as a prank, but it is a serious matter.

What can be done to stop it? For one, cyberbullying laws need to be current with today's climate. No more slaps on the wrist. No more apologies. Consequences for actions must be enforced. 'Swatting' laws need to be introduced and we need to start showing what happens to the pranksters. But we also need to teach kids, teens, and young adults that the prank is not funny. It's harmful. It's dangerous. And it can be deadly. The aftermath is on your hands, not the police/emergency services. We also  need to stop showing 'swatting' as a funny YouTube gag. We need to stop marking those videos with smiles and laughs.

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