Swatting is an increasingly alarming trend. It poses many dangers to the targets as well as unintended victims. Preventing swatting on Twitch is one of the most important things you can do to keep yourself safe in online gaming.
This article will explain why this trend is so prevalent in gaming. Also, find out what you can do to prevent it.
Table of Contents
What Swatting Means
Another word for swatting would be hoax 9-1-1 calls or false reports. Some associate it with pranks, but it is much more serious. Swatting emerged as the prevalence of online gaming has come into the mainstream. Even though the term is only about a decade old, its definition is distinct and universally accepted.
Swatting consists of calling emergency services such as the police to report an emergency that does not really exist. The reported location of the emergency is always the address of the intended target. The problem of swatting is it may cause injury or alarm to the target based on the serious nature of the emergency alleged.
Example of Swatting
An example of swatting would start with one person gaining a tremendous amount of animosity towards another. This could be due to losing against this person in the game.
The enraged player then calls 9-1-1 to report the other player is armed and dangerous. They provide the target’s home address and the police respond on high alert.
This high alert may have the effect that police respond to this unsuspecting victim’s home address with guns drawn and ready for a shootout.
Similarly, Ring swatting is when hackers gain access to the video doorbell system of someone to watch police respond to the 9-1-1 call as it happens.
An example is the North Port swatting case. In Florida during November 2020, a hacker was watching the result of their actions on the Ring video doorbell owned by the victim.
Doxxing and Swatting
What is the difference between doxing (or doxxing) and swatting? The clear difference is doxing involves the release of information about the target. This information can sometimes include the victim’s home address. However, doxing can represent the release of any personal information about the target.
Even when releasing the home address in a doxing attack, the main objective is not to cause a dangerous police response. This kind of response is exactly what swatting involves.
One similarity between these two terms is the intended goal is to cause harm against another person. This target is someone the attacker holds resentment towards.
But in the case of doxing, the threat is much less direct. In this circumstance, the action of the attacker is simply the release of personal information. There is a potential in some cases that an overt threat or encouragement for others to cause harm to this person is present.
However, swatting is arguably more dangerous because it ensures the intervention of authorities at least to some degree.
Swatting in Gaming
Twitch is a live-stream platform for video games that allows players around the world to watch players and communicate together. The common link between all of these people is the online gaming aspect.
However, as often is the case with these kinds of circumstances there is often a sense of community. These communities of gamers can often develop characteristics similar to high school.
For example, there are groups or pockets of different players with similar interests who group together and do not necessarily get along with each other.
In 2019, a Fortnite swatting incident occurred involving a Twitch user. This was a close call with police who thought the teen had just murdered his father. Fortunately, this case did not end in tragedy.
Similarly, the Jordan Mathewson swatting incident occurred in Colorado in August of 2014. The target, in this case, was a gamer streaming Counter-strike on Twitch.
On other Online Games
Because of the nature of online gaming, this phenomenon is not unique to Twitch. Where there is an online game where information can be shared directly between users without safeguards, the possibility of this threat happening is present.
In 2017, Tyler Barriss along with Casey Viner perpetrated a deadly swatting call in Wichita Kansas. Also known as the Xbox swatting case, this incident involves the victim, Andrew Finch being targeted while playing the game Call of Duty. Finch was unable to survive his injuries as a result of the police response.
The Crash Bandicoot swatting incident involved a neighbor upset the victim was making too much noise. The caller lied to the police and said there was a fight in the apartment that may have turned physical. I’ve seen the video of the shooting that resulted. It was hard to watch. The player answered the door with a gun and was killed by the police.
In Chicago, March of 2018, the Northwestern swatting case occurred where the caller said he shot his girlfriend. The intended target was a gamer who luckily was not injured. Unfortunately, the swatter is still on the loose.
Finally, in November of 2020, the gaming company Ubisoft was swatted. The building was evacuated as a precaution. This resulted in a loss of productivity and money, but it could have been worse.
Prevent Swatting on Twitch
Prevent swatting on Twitch by not sharing personal information online. Leave false leads by using inaccurate information when possible. And avoid unnecessary arguments with strangers on the internet.
How to Prevent Swatting
To protect yourself from swatting, Google yourself and see what information about you is already on the web. You may be able to request the removal of this information directly from the website. If you don’t find success, contact the hosting company responsible for the site and ask them.
Another way to protect against swatting is to log into old profiles. Delete information or close accounts you no longer use. This kind of information is what someone trying to swat you might find when researching you.
Be careful what information you provide online. Information passes to others through social media you may not know who you’re really talking to.
Use fake credit cards to sign up for websites. This way you are providing less of your own information that could one day be used against you. You can learn more about Credit Card Generators in our article on the subject.
Invest in a PO Box. There are limitations on what you can use them for, but they are one layer of security. One benefit is that someone finding your P.O. box address will not know where you physically live.
Report swatting if you have information about someone planning to do this. You may have the power to prevent it from happening to someone else. Sometimes it is not possible to prevent yourself from becoming a victim of swatting. But if someone else was able to speak up and protect you, you would want them to do it.
In Seattle Washinton, there is an anti-swatting registry. This is one way they how to stop swatting. By signing up with this program, the police can be notified as to what people and phone numbers to associate with your address. If they receive an emergency call from someone else with an unknown number, they will be more skeptical.
Contact the non-emergency line of the local 9-1-1 call center. Provide them with your name and direct phone number. This way they can associate this information with your address in their system. This is like the anti-swatting registry but not all areas provide that service. Now, 9-1-1 can call you directly with questions and compare your information to the fake 911 call.
There is a constant battle between law enforcement and technology. 911 centers continue to become more capable of tracking the source of calls. As this happens technology changes and people find new ways to avoid detection. The law lags behind because the government is reactive instead of proactive.
If you get Swatted
One of the first things that you can do immediately is to make a police report. Because they are most likely already aware due to the nature of swatting, you are not further complicating the issue.
Some people resist contacting the police because they fear they are making the issue bigger. However, it may be important to set the record straight as your attacker has painted you in a negative light with the authorities.
This may not always be a problem immediately. But with technology, it may be documented in their system that you or your address are a problem. And if you need services in the future, it can paint a person’s opinion and affect your level of services.
A quick example is if someone is drunk and threatening during their interaction with the police. The police files typically document this activity. Months later when that person calls the police as the victim of a crime, the police may respond differently. They may be less willing to put the same effort into assisting this person knowing their history.
This should not come as a surprise. By human nature, anyone would be less willing to help someone who was problematic in the past unless it was a true emergency.
Provide thorough and truthful information
Contact a lawyer so that they can better guide you as far as what your options are. Do not take this article as legal advice. You may be able to sue for any losses that occur as a result of this incident.
What I think is important to remember is that the police need to take calls for emergencies seriously. You may be familiar with the children’s story of the boy who cried wolf. The police need to respond in a serious manner despite the threat of swatting. Otherwise, in the case of a real threat, they would be slower to respond in a real emergency.
Therefore I suggest that you target the caller and not the police. Keep in mind the police typically have some immunity in most civil cases when they act within the scope of their duties.
To give you a better idea of how common is swatting, Google Trends shows it peaks every few months as incidents continue to happen.
If you’re wondering if swatting still happens, remember your opinion of something still being popular may be tainted by how often it is reported.
A few years ago there were almost weekly news reports of commercial airplanes having landing gear issues. When something like this makes national headlines, people believe it is more common than when it goes unreported.
Swatting statistics according to the FBI say that approximately 400 incidents occur every year in the U.S. So apparently swatting is still a thing.
List of Swatting Incidents
Here is a small list of recent swatting incidents. This list is not exhaustive.
- Dallas Horton
- Ohio Incident
- Elk Grove
- Robert McDade
- Line Mountain
The Calgary swatting incidents occurred mostly around October of 2019 and did not include any fatalities.
In January of 2015, the Dallas Horton swatting case involved a bomb threat. The chief of police was shot multiple times. He was lucky to survive his injuries.
Author and activist Ijeoma Oluo was swatted in Aug 2019. This Oluo swatting incident started with the report of double homicide. It is believed she was targeted because of the nature of her political involvement.
The Elk Grove swatting case occurred in January of 2020 with the report of a shooting. A large police response occurred and the local area was evacuated. This caused a major inconvenience and alarm to the people in the area.
In December of 2019, a swatting incident occurred in Newburyport Massachusetts. There were no injuries as a result but it was clearly a very dangerous situation.
In Maryland, February 2015, swatting victim Robert McDade was the target of a reported hostage situation. He was seriously injured as a direct result.
Non-swatting hoax calls
Not every incident reported as a swatting case is accurate. Some media outlets are not familiar with the term.
One example is the Line Mountain swatting situation in Tennessee. A caller targeted a victim in Pennsylvania regarding a threat to a school.
There is a fine line between basic bomb threats and swatting. The intent behind bomb threats is typically to cancel school and cause alarm. It is the intention of swatting to provoke a shooting. The police are not going to respond the same way to a bomb as they are to the report of a shooting.
Any time a person dies from swatting it is a tragedy. Deaths from swatting are particularly frustrating when avoiding them is completely possible.
In the addition to the gaming swatting death in Kansas in 2017, the Crash Bandicoot case also proved deadly. Of the cases I’ve examined, these are the two fatalities I have been able to find actual reports. The number of deaths is likely much higher.
Death or serious bodily injury are possible outcomes in every swatting case. Regardless of the physical toll, the severe panic and emotional stress these cases cause result in psychological damage to everyone involved.
Why Gamers get Swatted
Swatting on Twitch is popular because of a mix of factors. This includes a highly competitive environment, the youth of the users, and the perception of anonymity.
- Worldwide Reach
There are multiple reasons for the use of swatting. Why people do it varies but one example is anger. It is one of the most prevailing emotions that lead to a person’s decision to initiate a swatting situation. In the realm of Twitch, it is often due to the high level of competition during gameplay.
As there are in sports, there are winners and losers. Some people create games to include the cooperation of all players against a common enemy or towards a common goal. Others pit these players against each other resulting in a high level of animosity.
Similar to anger, revenge is the next emotion that plays a role. This is when someone becomes tries to gain the upper hand or punish another person for their success.
Most people play games for the satisfaction of winning. For that to happen, there must also be a loser. Everyone has met a sore loser at some point in their lives. This loss can lead to anger when they believe rightly or wrongly they are not deserving of the loss.
The youth of the player or the seeking of a thrill is an aggregating factor. It makes the above circumstances more volatile. Being young alone does not lead to these circumstances. However, it means that people who find themselves in these kinds of situations are less likely to have the social and emotional skills to properly handle these emotions.
Another reason people use this tactic is so they can attack victims all over the world. Otherwise, these targets would not be reachable. This method of attack eliminates the problem of distance.
Finally, the perceived sense of anonymity bolsters attacker’s confidence that they will not be caught.
Online gaming is a type of activity that is easier to lash out at other players because it is not face-to-face. Instead, other people such as the police do the hard work instead of the attacker. This makes the person a coward much like bombers are since they rely on remaining hidden.
Laws Against Swatting
Most jurisdictions have charges associated with the abuse or misuse of the 911 system. Also, it is possible the police can arrest them for filing a false police report. Another name for this is false unsworn statements.
Similar to perjury, this is when you make a report that you know not to be true. Last but not least, many jurisdictions have a charge associated with risking a catastrophe. This simply means that is your intention for a tragedy such as harm to someone to occur as a result of your actions
When someone is arrested for swatting, what they are charged with depends mostly on the location where they were arrested.
Anti swatting laws
For example, swatting is illegal in Texas and is a misdemeanor. But the law used to prosecute attackers is not specific to these kinds of cases. Like in many places, the police and prosecutors use existing laws that loosely apply to the actions when nothing else applies.
The U.S. federal government uses 18 U.S. Code § 1038 False information and hoaxes. This is the catchall they currently use until the creation of laws directly against this kind of activity.
The Preserving Safe Communities by Ending Swatting Act of 2019 was introduced to the House. As of this writing, it has yet to be passed into law at the federal level.
In Virginia, the VA code for swatting is § 18.2-461 Falsely summoning or giving false reports to law-enforcement officials. This law went into effect on March 1, 2021.
Meanwhile, in Washington state, the RCW Swatting 9A.84.040 False reporting – is what they use to prosecute such cases.
Last but not least, Georgia has OCGA swatting 2010 Georgia Code
Title 16 – Crimes and Offenses Chapter 11 – Offenses Against Public Order and Safety Article 2 – Offenses Against Public Order – O.C.G.A. 16-11-39.2 (2010) Unlawful conduct during 9-1-1 calls.
These charges that I’ve listed are significant and can lead to jail time. The main determining factor for the seriousness of the sentence is going to be the level of the harm done. If someone is injured or if there is extensive property damage then that is likely the case.
However, without these factors and if the offender is a first-time offender the sentence may be more in line with a fine and probation.
Prison sentence for Swatting
Not only is swatting illegal in California, if it results in the serious injury or death of someone, but it is also a felony. Because of the seriousness of the charge, you would be jailed for swatting if convicted.
There has been a vast range in swatting sentences based on factors such as:
- The severity of the incident (death, serious injury)
- Priors of the accused
- The location where it occurred (more liberal, lenient laws)
- Who prosecutes it – local or federal
- Media coverage or public interests put pressure for more aggressive prosecution
Actual Penalties of Swatting
In the 2017 Kansas incident, Barris was sentenced to a term of 20 years in prison for his role in the incident. Justin Rapp was the officer involved. And while he was not charged criminally, he was sued in civil court for his role.
In the Zachary Lee swatting case, he received 2 years in prison for his role in the serious injury that happened to Robert McDaid.
This activity is absolutely wrong no matter which way you look at it. Even taking into account the perceived wrongs done by the target. The fact of the matter is that no action by another should dictate you personally committing a criminal act such as this.
Swatting can be deadly and should be taken very seriously. Not only can the target of the attack be injured or killed, but there can be unintended victims.
To prevent yourself from falling victim to swatting on Twitch, I recommend you search for all traces of your information on the internet. Be careful what you put in your profiles and what you say on social media. Avoid confrontations with internet trolls.
Keep reading about cybersecurity to keep you safe online by reading our other blog posts. There’s a new post at least every week so check back often.