' Olivia Wheeling | MTTLR

Online Harassment IRL: Legislation in the Wake of the First Deadly Swatting

Swatting is “the action or practice of making a hoax call to the emergency services in an attempt to bring about the dispatch of a large number of armed police officers to a particular address.” Many kinds of online disputes end in swatting: causing a videogame participant to lose a game, being a legislator working on anti-cyber harassment legislation, or expressing political opinions. The results of a successful swatting are uniformly dangerous for the target, family or friends who live with the target, and the law enforcement officers themselves. While the obvious danger is that someone could end up being injured or killed in the confusion, the less obvious problem is that swatting can draw law enforcement resources away from real emergencies. Recently, some police departments have taken to accepting notices of online rivalries from active gamers so they know whether to be skeptical of emergency calls received. Even so, the response of law enforcement officers in the wake of a swatting incident is often to recommend the target stop gaming or going online—an unrealistic suggestion that minimizes the impact of this issue. Earlier this year, Tyler Barriss, a Twitter user infamous for orchestrating the first deadly instance of “swatting,” was charged with involuntary manslaughter and extradited to Kansas for his role in the 2017 death of Andrew Finch. Barriss has now been charged with an additional 46 crimes in California for calling in bomb threats to a variety of organizations and running a paid swatting system through Twitter. Barriss maintains that the consequences of his calls to Wichita are not his fault, but rather merely unfortunate and the...