For years, “swatting” has been a vicious prank played on video game streamers, and it was only a matter of time before someone died as a result.
Thursday night, a Wichita SWAT team shot a man, Andrew Finch, in his home. Police now believe that the department deployed the team based on a fake tip made by a Twitch streamer.
According to the Wichita Eagle, Police Chief Troy Livingston said a call came in that a family argument had broken out, the father had been shot, and the shooter was holding the rest of the family hostage.
At the time, Livingston had not determined if the call was a swatting prank, but clues are pointing that point in that direction.
The Wichita Eagle heard from “more than a dozen people who identified themselves as being in the gaming community” that said a streaming feud caused two “Call of Duty” players to make the false call to the police department.
A series of tweets, screengrabbed by the Eagle, from a now-suspended Twitter account seem to corroborate that account.
Swatting as an aggressive act in the video game streaming community has existed for at least the past three years, becoming a bigger problem in recent years with the launch of live streaming services like Twitch.
The act refers to calling in a false report to a police station tied to a person’s particular address, causing authorities to send a heavily armed SWAT team to the person’s house.
Because of the live nature of the online gaming community, swatting is all the more voyeuristic since those who make the call to the police can possibly see the player drawn away from their stream to face an armed team of police.
There’s no easy fix to swatting. Combatting the abuse of using protective services against an innocent person is difficult. And the community, with its inherent decentralization and fierce love of anonymity, can’t or won’t police itself.
Ever since swatting began, it has caused an escalation of violence. We have seen the “Damn, Daniel” dude get swatted. A streamer broke down in tears on a livestream after his 10-year-old brother opened the door to a SWAT team. Another man was shot in the face with rubber bullets after getting Swatted.
Finch’s death is the ultimate culmination of a trend that puts real people in front of lethal weapons. And often it’s born over video games feuds, which can seem petty to those outside of the community but are proving to have very real consequences.
So far, few steps have been taken to prevent it. Legislatures are trying to make the crime of swatting more punitive with steeper punishments. Inside the gaming community, people are encouraged to take greater care of their location and identity. But again, this insular section of the population shirks most attempts to control it.
It’s hard to imagine that swatting will end due to Finch’s death, but the act itself is no longer the kind of thing about which people can say “somebody’s going to get killed someday.” Someone has been killed, making swatting a very real threat in a world that has previously only dealt with hypothetical violence.
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