‘Swatting’ Prank on Parkland Activist David Hogg Could Have Easily Turned Deadly

Recently, the family of Parkland, Florida anti-school shooting activist David Hogg said a disturbing incident occurred at their home. The Broward County Sheriff’s Office confirmed someone “swatted” the teen’s house, a prank that could have turned deadly. Let’s look into what swatting is, why it poses such a danger, and what we can do about it (page 7).

1. Why did someone swat Hogg?

David Hogg at March for Our Lives

David Hogg at March for Our Lives | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

ABC affiliate Local 10 reported that an anonymous caller contacted the sheriff’s department on June 5, claiming a hostage situation at the Hogg residence. When authorities arrived at Hogg’s residence, they found no such thing. The student and his mom had actually traveled to Washington DC at the time, to accept an award. This doesn’t represent the first time Hogg has encountered such vitriol, either.

Right-wing pundits, in particular, took personal jabs at Hogg. A conservative commentator from the Sinclair Broadcasting Group even resigned after he threatened “to ram a hot poker up David Hogg’s a**.”

Next: The cruel prank could have had the following consequences.

2. What is swatting?

Swat team at Highline College Stands Down After Active Shooter Threat Shuts Down Campus

SWAT Team | David Ryder/Getty Images

Swatting entails calling 911 and lying about someone doing something that would require SWAT team intervention. That could include holding a hostage or threatening someone’s life. It results in dispatchers sending police officers and a militarized SWAT team, to the victim’s location. In general, swatting results from online disputes, often within the video game or social media community.

Next: Hogg also doesn’t represent the first famous person to get swatted.

3. Who else have people swatted?

Justin Bieber performs on NBC's "Today" at NBC's TODAY Show on November 18, 2015 in New York.

Justin Bieber | Noam Galai/Getty Images

Hogg has some high-profile company, when it comes to swatting. The Associated Press reports that other well-known victims include Tom Cruise, Justin Bieber, the Kardashians, and Chris Brown.

Swatters often use online programs that trick 911 systems into thinking the distress calls come from inside the house where they want to send SWAT teams. Pranksters can do this from miles or even states away, which can also make them difficult to catch.

Next: It also has a similar effect as the following technique.

4. Swatting has this in common with other social media vitriol

Hacker at a computer

Silhouette of a person on the computer | Sean Gallup/Getty Images.

With the rise of social media and the Internet as a cultural force, we have also seen more and more incidents of attacking each other online. As a Vox story explained, swatting and doxxing — or releasing personal information to harass a person online — speaks to a uniquely human trait. “It seems like our brains are wired to enjoy punishing others,” said Nichola Raihani, a psychologist who studies human cooperation.

The internet creates “this forum that takes our drive to punish, and amplifies it, and leads to a huge collective overreaction in some cases,” said Yale psychology researcher Jillian Jordan. “When you put it all together, you get a mob mentality.”

Next: Seemingly harmless pranks like these also have very real consequences.

5. Why is swatting dangerous?

Police officers | Yui Mok – WPA Pool/Getty Images

While doxxing can ruin people’s careers or severely impact their lives, swatting can actually end them. When the SWAT team responds to an incident, the officers go in expecting a violent situation. That, in turn, makes them them more likely to shoot and kill someone. That could have happened to Hogg.

In 2017, police in Wichita, Kansas, shot and killed Andrew Finch, 28, after a California man swatted him, CNN reports. The man called the police to Finch’s home after an argument over a multiplayer computer game, Call of Duty, WWII.

Next: The practice also takes up this valuable resource.

6. Swatting also wastes police time

Blue police light on top of a police car at night.

Police car | Chalabala/iStock/Getty Images

As the FBI explained in 2008, “[T]hese calls are dangerous to first responders and to the victims … The community is placed in danger as responders rush to the scene, taking them away from real emergencies. And the officers are placed in danger as unsuspecting residents may try to defend themselves.”

In other words, swatting impacts not only the victims, but the community, as a whole. Police who have to respond to a fake call might consequently miss a real one. And when police waste their salaried time, we all pay for it.

Next: We have to do something about swatting.

7. How can we prevent it?

SWAT team members ride on a armored vehicle

SWAT team members ride on a armored vehicle | Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

As you might expect, the law does punish swatting, if police catch perpetrators. In 2015, courts sentenced a Connecticut man to a year in prison for swatting. Another man in Nebraska received five years in prison for participating in a swatting ring.The man who swatted Finch in Wichita also faced charges for involuntary manslaughter, giving false alarm, and interfering with law enforcement. So far, no one knows whoever swatted Hogg, so they have not yet seen prosecution.

Some law enforcement agencies have also taken steps to determine which calls represent real emergencies. Several California police agencies told the AP they have worked on gauging the reality of 911 before deploying resources like a SWAT team. The law has a long way to go, but we should all realize swatting is no laughing matter.

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