Swatting: The Latest in Pranking?


In recent years, disturbing trends have been emerging. These have been particularly felt within the video gaming community, but in reality reach much further than this. In fact, any person of status could feel its impact. I’m a gamer, and I’m not afraid to admit it. I play games mainly for the social side of them, with old and new friends alike. I’m also a firm believer in the power of games (in moderation) for good. Communication skills, teamwork and creativity – in the right environment and when balanced with other activities, gaming can help to develop all of these. But if I’m honest? This trend scares me a little.

This ‘trend’ I mentioned could be anything. Gamergate is an obvious choice, which has dragged a large number of journalists, communities and other individuals into what is becoming an incredibly complex situation. But instead, I’m going to look at something which appeared on my Facebook news feed earlier. This is the emergence of ‘Swatting’.

So, what do I mean when I say ‘Swatting’? The Guardian provide a nice summary of the concept, but in essence it uses a fake 999 (or local equivalent) call to dispatch an armed police squad to the home of an individual. The armed police team (usually the Special Weapons And Tactics unit – hence SWATing) then proceeds to break into the property, and do what they are trained to do. They’re doing nothing wrong – as far as they are aware, there is an armed threat inside of that building, and they have to neutralise it. Celebrities including Tom Cruise, Miley Cyrus and Simon Cowell have all been targeted, but some of the most common incidents have occurred against video game streamers on sites such as Twitch.tv.

So now we know what ‘Swatting’ is, can we explain why people do it? What would drive individuals to indirectly attack someone in such a manner that puts not just the lives of that individual at risk, but also those of their family? Is it simply a cry for attention, an individual seeking some sort of control and authority over another? Or is it quite simply a prank, unique to the modern world?

The arrest of Brandon Wilson on the 10th of February, if nothing more, shows us that this is a serious issue. His case alone (according to American sources) is being investigated by no less than five state authorities, and by the FBI on a federal level. Wilson, sources state, can now expect a prison sentence of five years, resulting from various activities including not just ‘Swatting’, but other incidents of hacking, imitation and fraud. And I’m sure that as the case goes on, we will find out more about Wilson’s reasons and actions.

Wilson might simply be one isolated individual who went too far – his crimes reach far further than ‘Swatting’ alone. But the global reach and anonymity offered by the internet has led to the rise of ‘keyboard activism’, with ‘Swatting’ just being one part of it. I mentioned Gamergate earlier, and ‘Swatting’ is becoming increasingly common. After all, it is rare that anyone is prosecuted as a result of their actions.

It goes without saying that ‘Swatting’ is a bad thing. Anyone can see that. Regardless of your motives, putting someone through that experience is never the right thing to do. Thankfully, it is much rarer in the UK, and elsewhere the relevant legislative bodies are beginning to move towards tighter controls and monitoring, with the prevention of ‘Swatting’ in mind. We might at last, see a formal end of this vicious trend which has affected so many individuals, and damaged so many lives.


History student, Union rep and tech advocate. I sometimes design pretty things as well. I'm @thatsamdedman on Twitter!

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