The video game industry has been going through some rough times lately, but one of the most disturbing trends has been the rise of swatting, the act of calling in a fake active shooter to summon a SWAT team to an unsuspecting streamer's location.
The term swatting was coined in 2008 by the FBI, which states that these so-called 'pranks' pose a severe risk to the individuals who are being swatted, the responding officers who might encounter residents resisting a sudden home invasion, and the community that might require a SWAT team elsewhere. Besides the physical risks involved, each prank costs roughly $10,000 to mobilize the necessary equipment and officers.
Though swatting first surfaced in 2008, it has only been recently that it has gained prominence. In 2013, many high profile celebrities were targeted ranging from Justin Beieber to Clint Eastwood. However, 2014 seems to have been a year during which more average people have been the victims of such attacks. The people apprehended for these crimes (because that's what swatting is: a crime), have tended to be younger tech-savvy men. One 16-year-old was caught in connection with over thirty swatting incidents and brought up on over sixty charges. There doesn't seem to be much data on how often crimes like this occur, but it does seem to be increasing with several cases making the rounds through media over the last few months.
That brings us to Twitch streamer and YouTuber, Maxcuster X. He decided to stream some Call of Duty with his wife a few weeks ago. After their stream had gone on for about two hours, trolls started disrupting the chat and soon there were some posting their home address. Then, as the stream was winding down, one of the couple's children noticed a police car on the street. Maxcuster X and his family had been swatted and there were armed men outside their home. That is not a prank. Luckily, Maxcuster X and his wife were able to deescalate the situation, but the SWAT team still had to go through their house and follow procedure. Later, he gave a full, sobering account of the ordeal in a video posted to his YouTube channel.
Now you ask yourself why could this happen to me? Why? I'm a nice guy! It doesn't matter if you're nice. It doesn't matter if you are an angel. It doesn't matter if you are a douchebag or somebody who isn't very nice. Somebody who has no manners, who doesn't care. When these people go out there, they're already starting their party. They are just sitting on their computer picking thumbnails and looking at each one of us, YouTube, Twitch, people that are on playing games, Twitter. It doesn't matter who you are. They'll pick you like it's a game and they'll say, "Okay, this one looks interesting. Let's do it to him. Let's order twenty pizzas and then the SWAT team." So there's really nothing you can do. You can be the nicest or most horrible person, you'll still have the risk of getting this.
How can you prevent this? Do not have internet. Get off the grid.
But of course you're not going to do this. We live in a connected world. I didn't get off the internet, I didn't stop gaming. We're never going to do this, because all we live with this connection.
This is a very real possibility for people who stream their games online. Maxcuster X suggests that the best people can do is for individuals to monitor their chats. If people are throwing around suspicious comments, pause and make sure something isn't going down, possibly even call 911 to make sure everything is alright. The FBI suggests filing a police report if someone makes a swatting threat so that the police know if SWAT is called it could be a hoax.
Streaming via Twitch is one of the most popular ways that the Extra Life community has shown support in the past, so this is a troubling state of affairs. If you stream, please be vigilant and safe.