“Mom,” I asked, “did the SWAT team come to your house?”
July 20, 2015 10:28 AM   Subscribe

That Time the Internet Sent a SWAT Team to My Mom's House
My mom asked what I had said to make people so angry, and what I had done to upset strangers so badly.

I’ve never felt worse about myself.
Caroline Sinders, an interaction designer and researcher with IBM, describes how researching ways to prevent online abuse made her, and her family, the victim of a SWATting.
posted by SansPoint (85 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
 
My mom asked what I had said to make people so angry, and what I had done to upset strangers so badly.

wow. Even from her own mother the immediate default assumption is that she must have done something to deserve it.
posted by poffin boffin at 10:33 AM on July 20, 2015 [73 favorites]


“Mom,” I started again, “Have you heard of Gamergate?” She stopped laughing.

This is the reaction of 98.5% of the the people who hear that question. The other 1.5% are assholes.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:34 AM on July 20, 2015 [17 favorites]


Even if the number had been tracked, it was probably from an iPad (a regular swatting tactic) or a dummy number.

What? What's so special about an iPad?
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 10:38 AM on July 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


My mom asked what I had said to make people so angry, and what I had done to upset strangers so badly.

FLAMES ON THE SIDE OF MY FACE.
posted by lydhre at 10:41 AM on July 20, 2015 [19 favorites]


It has become dangerous to present as a female on the internet these days, if you do it in any fashion where you are likely to catch attention from a certain segment of users. Spooky dangerous. Not just annoying, not just tiresome, but scarily, life threateningly dangerous.
posted by dejah420 at 10:43 AM on July 20, 2015 [8 favorites]


wow. Even from her own mother the immediate default assumption is that she must have done something to deserve it.

lol have you ever met any mothers?
posted by phunniemee at 10:44 AM on July 20, 2015 [58 favorites]


I wonder when this technique of "SWATting" is going to result in someone being killed...
posted by Chuffy at 10:44 AM on July 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


My mom asked what I had said to make people so angry, and what I had done to upset strangers so badly.

That's part of the problem, isn't it? One of the things that makes them angry is working to prevent their anger from affecting your life and the lives of others (like the woman who made the Twitter block list). If people think you are attacking them by the simple act of trying not to engage with them, what can you even do except shut up and feel scared?
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 10:45 AM on July 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


Sadly, my mom, whom I love so much and is pretty awesome, would ask me the same thing.
posted by Kitteh at 10:45 AM on July 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


lol have you ever met any mothers?

yes, like mine who blamed me for literally everything from being lactose intolerant to getting raped. that's why it's horrible to read that someone else's mother is similarly awful.
posted by poffin boffin at 10:45 AM on July 20, 2015 [30 favorites]


I wonder when this technique of "SWATting" is going to result in someone being killed...

I bet, if the police were held responsible for misuse of their SWAT teams (perhaps by having them taken away), we would suddenly discover that it was a lot more easy to trace and prosecute these crimes.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:47 AM on July 20, 2015 [66 favorites]


The call came in to my mother’s local precinct, not 911. This is the norm for swatting calls — most local precincts don’t record calls, so there is no way to trace the “prank.”

So, to be clear, these police departments have the resources to outfit a SWAT team, but not the resources to record incoming calls? A thing that I, a random person with an iPhone, can do?
posted by almostmanda at 10:49 AM on July 20, 2015 [117 favorites]


Jesus.
posted by kalessin at 10:50 AM on July 20, 2015


I bet, if the police were held responsible for misuse of their SWAT teams (perhaps by having them taken away), we would suddenly discover that it was a lot more easy to trace and prosecute these crimes.

Also: maybe the people whose job it is to protect citizens, when they need to justify breaking into an American citizen's home as if it was war-torn Afghanistan, should have a slightly higher bar than an anonymous phone call.
posted by nushustu at 10:51 AM on July 20, 2015 [70 favorites]


I also think that victim-blamming is bad, it is, it's really really bad, but I think I have a little more sympathy for it in that it's absolutely terrifying to think that people could get that violently angry when someone didn't do anything real to hurt them and they don't get anything out of it. It's not even like an earthquake or something that's totally random; this was done by a person who could know better.

How unbelievably terrifying to think that, like an emotionless elemental force, actual human beings fucking do this shit without real provocation. It's horrible to blame Ms. Sinders, but I understand why you don't want to believe that this could happen. Totally doesn't make it okay, but I kind of understand being unable to comprehend that this could just HAPPEN.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 10:52 AM on July 20, 2015 [7 favorites]


What's telling is that the mother was not particularly bothered by the event when she thought it was just a "prank," but the moment she understood that her daughter was a deliberate target the victim blaming turned on full blast. I understand that it's terrifying to know that this shit happens ON PURPOSE but it is blatantly not her daughter's fault.
posted by lydhre at 10:53 AM on July 20, 2015 [7 favorites]


My mom asked what I had said to make people so angry, and what I had done to upset strangers so badly.

I read this as a totally innocent comment by her mom, which the author then used as a device.
posted by peep at 10:53 AM on July 20, 2015 [16 favorites]


Chuffy, I am not aware of any deaths as a result of SWATting per se, but there are many deaths due to the SWAT team invading the wrong house, killing someone who was a resident but not the suspect, etc.
posted by Monochrome at 10:57 AM on July 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


As more companies require real names to register the likelihood of being found out becomes greater. I spend countless hours making my profiles me but not me. I do want some of my work recognized for me, but I'm to scared to do that.

I wish that police would put priority into these cases. Things can go to hell so fast and SWAT teams aren't nice people. I think of it as attempted murder.
posted by AlexiaSky at 10:58 AM on July 20, 2015 [12 favorites]


justify breaking into an American citizen's home as if it was war-torn Afghanistan

I see things like this, and I think of all the posts I saw on Ferguson PD's behavior where Iraq & Afghanistan vets asked, "What the hell do these guys think they're doing? Who taught them how to hold a gun?? We didn't do anything like this, and we were in warzones!"
posted by scaryblackdeath at 10:58 AM on July 20, 2015 [13 favorites]


My mom asked what I had said to make people so angry, and what I had done to upset strangers so badly.

To tie threads together, this is the natural reaction in a society where women are always expected to do the emotional labour, up to the point of providing the justification/motive for the people harassing them.

It's not that somebody decided to be an asshole and attempt to get your mother killed by police, you must've done something to upset them first.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:59 AM on July 20, 2015 [14 favorites]


the victim blaming turned on full blast

Yeah, this mom is clearly the worst person in the world. We should send a SWAT team to her house anonymously!

Which is to say--the narrative that has developed in this thread about what a horrible, ghastly, evil woman the mother is for "blaming" her daughter so obdurately--all based on what, as peep says above, is pretty clearly an entirely innocent and natural question is a pretty good example of the way the internet fosters a kind of "let's get 'im" mob mentality.
posted by yoink at 11:00 AM on July 20, 2015 [32 favorites]


No, a natural question is "what the hell is wrong with these people who sent a SWAT team to my house because of something my non-terrorist daughter said online".
posted by poffin boffin at 11:02 AM on July 20, 2015 [34 favorites]


yoink already said what was going through my mind as i read. Having a SWAT team come to your house just to get at your daughter has got to be pretty horrifying, and it is hard to imagine the cold fact that someone would do it for no good reason.
posted by Peach at 11:04 AM on July 20, 2015


Yeah, this mom is clearly the worst person in the world. We should send a SWAT team to her house anonymously!

Which is to say--the narrative that has developed in this thread about what a horrible, ghastly, evil woman the mother is for "blaming" her daughter so obdurately--all based on what, as peep says above, is pretty clearly an entirely innocent and natural question is a pretty good example of the way the internet fosters a kind of "let's get 'im" mob mentality.


Yoink, are you joking? Because underscoring how the author felt SHAME because of the attack is important. It's not about the mother, it's about the pervasive narrative that these things happen because men must have been provoked.
posted by lydhre at 11:04 AM on July 20, 2015 [39 favorites]


I don't think her mother intended to blame her for the swatting. It's a normal question to an over-the-top situation. It's not normal or ok for people to send SWAT teams as retribution for online commentary, so it's sort of natural to think, "Wow, what was the interaction that precipitated that?" It doesn't mean that her mom thinks she made a mistake for tweeting about feminist topics.
posted by stowaway at 11:06 AM on July 20, 2015 [31 favorites]


I read this as a totally innocent comment by her mom, which the author then used as a device.

You reading this as an innocent question is sort of the problem, though. As many people have pointed out, it is anything but innocent, because it illustrates how we acculture women to refocus responsibility onto women for managing the tempers of others.
posted by NoxAeternum at 11:07 AM on July 20, 2015 [21 favorites]


As horrible as the gamergate folks are, I'm still far more disturbed by the sheer number of police forces that have SWAT teams and are willing to deploy them at a moments notice. And that the fact that they aren't doing very much to prevent the misuse of their own resources.

If I paid a guy to storm into someone's house and assault them, I'd almost certainly get jail time. It's not a prank.
posted by dinty_moore at 11:07 AM on July 20, 2015 [13 favorites]


My mom asked what I had said to make people so angry, and what I had done to upset strangers so badly.

FWIW, I'm a man, and it would be totally in character for my mother to ask me the same thing.
posted by vibrotronica at 11:07 AM on July 20, 2015 [11 favorites]


I'm still amazed that the standard operating procedure for deploying SWAT hasn't changed in response to Gamergate, et al. SWAT really should only be deployed in response to an on site assessment by a police officer or officers. The decision to call in SWAT shouldn't be something that can be triggered by a single phone call. (Note, I also think that SWAT is called out way too often and in circumstances that don't warrant it, but that's a whole other issue.)
posted by longdaysjourney at 11:08 AM on July 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


But really, this is the takeaway paragraph of her post:
I generally tweet fairly innocuous things, like “I'm eating goldfish in bed BC it's nearly the weekend and I give zero fucks.” I Instagram, I have a Facebook. These are normal things to have in our digital society, and the answer to my safety is to not give them up. I want to have the ability to be funny and serious, but most of all, to be myself online. I should not have to give that up just to be safe. The solution is for social media sites and the police to take threats or jokes about swatting, doxxing, and organized crime seriously. Tweeting about buying a gun and shooting up a school would be taken seriously, and so should the threat of raping, doxxing, swatting or killing someone.
GamersGate harassment is not a problem individual women can fix, can make themselves safe from, but something that needs to be handled on a societal level as the criminal action it is. And it's companies like Reddit, like Twitter, who have the responsibility to take this serious, to take action in ways that individual people cannot.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:09 AM on July 20, 2015 [63 favorites]


Ugh. I have been attempting to promote a female perspective into the hobby I'm involved with which is largely male. Right now, I'm mostly trying to raise awareness as to "where are all the women?" I have some slow moving plans of something bigger, but for the moment, it's just me asking why there aren't more women writers and speakers. In doing so, one web community asked me if I'd moderate a forum on "diversity". I said maybe, but I'd need some guarantees from you- in particular awareness of the possible blowback of such a beast; and then your support when that blowback comes. I then went on to explain how women in such roles tend to be harassed both online and off, and what they were asking is no small thing.

The first response I got was sow thing along the lines of "we don't want to stir things up, we just want you to be there and be welcoming to women and minorities." I then pointed out that you couldn't have that without asking why, but even then, there is still a precedence of serious backlash towards both women and the sites that support them.

I haven't heard back. I wonder why.

It does worry me, because I am planning on trying to promote women in my hobby. And I think of all the places I have my real information. Countless domains with my real address. Do I try to hide all of that? Is there a point? Maybe I'm wrong to be paranoid about that level of harassment, but based on a few conversations online, I'd say no, not at all. It makes me question if I do really want to go through with it...
posted by [insert clever name here] at 11:10 AM on July 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


[I feel like it's probably doable to both (a) recognize the perniciousness of assumed/implied blame or culpability and also (b) not turn this into a symbolic fight over the literal motives of the specific mom whom this article doesn't seem to be particularly about. Maybe sort of let that bit lie and focus on the larger scope of the story.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:10 AM on July 20, 2015 [14 favorites]


I think is pretty natural to assume if someone would do something of this scope it must be a reaction to something that had been done to them. Normally this would follow. The fact that it is such a ridiculous overreaction to something you said on the inherent to initiate a SWATting is outside most people's everyday experiences.
posted by biffa at 11:11 AM on July 20, 2015


It's pretty tactless, in this particular thread on this particular subject, to equate frustration with reflexive victim-blaming with violent internet mob justice.
posted by almostmanda at 11:11 AM on July 20, 2015 [12 favorites]


I'm still amazed that the standard operating procedure for deploying SWAT hasn't changed in response to Gamergate, et al.

The problem is that even 20 years or so after the internet first became mainstream, for very many people, including many if not most policy makers, it's still a fairly esoteric part of life, a tool that can be picked up and dropped fairly easy, not an extension of your life. For any individual police department, a Swatting will be a rare or unique event and most will lack the knowledge and cluefullness to see it for the organised terrorism it is, if only because "the internet isn't real life".
posted by MartinWisse at 11:12 AM on July 20, 2015 [9 favorites]


Even if the number had been tracked, it was probably from an iPad (a regular swatting tactic) or a dummy number.

What? What's so special about an iPad?


I'm not sure, but here's a local news report where one of the victims of SWATting said "she believe[d] her iPad was hacked and someone used that information to call 911." But that sounds pretty weird, because it's a lot of work to spoof a phone number.

It comes down to caller ID spoofing, which is pretty easy with websites and programs, some which I'm sure run off of iPads or other iDevices.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:13 AM on July 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


[insert clever name here]: "Maybe I'm wrong to be paranoid about that level of harassment, but based on a few conversations online, I'd say no, not at all. It makes me question if I do really want to go through with it..."

I recently turned down a gig I really wanted, because they wouldn't let me use a pen name, and I wasn't willing to take the chance that my review of something would send overamped cops to bust down my door. People die in swat raids, dogs die in swat raids, I'd just as soon nobody be in mortal danger because I reviewed a game "wrong".
posted by dejah420 at 11:22 AM on July 20, 2015 [22 favorites]


You reading this as an innocent question is sort of the problem, though. As many people have pointed out, it is anything but innocent, because it illustrates how we acculture women to refocus responsibility onto women for managing the tempers of others.

Eh, I just recall my father when I was growing up asking me "What did you do?" whenever something bad would happen. He thought I had to have contributed to everything that happened to me somehow. I think it may be as much a generational thing as a gender thing.
posted by MikeMc at 11:25 AM on July 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


And it's companies like Reddit, like Twitter, who have the responsibility to take this serious, to take action in ways that individual people cannot.

It's ridiculous that Cinders and others (e.g., Randi Harper) have to develop anti-harassment tools on their own, often in their spare time, while the companies whose technology enables the harassment in the first place laugh all the way to the bank. It certainly underscores Sarah Jeong's argument that "For many social platforms, moderation is an afterthought, tacked on top of the technology."
posted by Cash4Lead at 11:26 AM on July 20, 2015 [9 favorites]


I decided to approach the problem as if Twitter had hired me as a user experience designer to fix its harassment problem...

The technique she describes (many brand-new followers, all spouting invective), are certainly things that can be detected algorithmically, and Twitter ought to be creating those filters themselves.

They could also notice when a person is being forced to block several accounts, and they could shield the user from new messages by holding them until the user gave an ok/not ok signal.

Also, any user who has been blocked repeatedly ought to come under scrutiny for abuse of the TOS.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 11:28 AM on July 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


Some game review website should institute the practice of requiring all their reviewers to use female pen names.
posted by fings at 11:37 AM on July 20, 2015 [35 favorites]


It has become dangerous to present as a female on the internet these days, if you do it in any fashion where you are likely to catch attention from a certain segment of users. Spooky dangerous. Not just annoying, not just tiresome, but scarily, life threateningly dangerous.
posted by dejah420 at 1:43 PM on July 20 [1 favorite +] [!]


I don't understand how this violence doesn't get more press. I feel like the news media could BLOW IT UP as much as any other random violence (oh no someone didn't get bit by a shark!). We need to keep pushing the message until they think there's a critical mass of viewers.
posted by rebent at 11:39 AM on July 20, 2015


>Having a SWAT team come to your house just to get at your daughter has got to be pretty horrifying, and it is hard to imagine the cold fact that someone would do it for no good reason.

>It's a normal question to an over-the-top situation. It's not normal or ok for people to send SWAT teams as retribution for online commentary, so it's sort of natural to think, "Wow, what was the interaction that precipitated that?"

There's a difference between asking "Why are they so angry at you?" versus asking "What did you do to make them so angry?" The first is asking for information. The second is implying that you caused it and if you hadn't done what you did, you wouldn't be in the trouble you're in.
posted by Lexica at 11:46 AM on July 20, 2015 [11 favorites]


I get some of the frustration here but I think it's ironic that we're focusing on the words of the mom who got SWATted and not the assholes who are SWATting the families of women who write things that make them cranky.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 11:50 AM on July 20, 2015 [46 favorites]


Not too long ago I was pretty shocked to discover that swatting has got so prevalent that there are compliation videos on youtube
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 11:53 AM on July 20, 2015


yea, what Mrs. Pterodactyl said.
posted by sweetkid at 11:53 AM on July 20, 2015


The message is simple: If you're a woman, on the Internet and have ever had an opinion you must be silenced. If someone is hurt or killed in the process so be it.

SWATting is a symptom, not the disease. Just like SWAT teams being ubiquitous even in small towns.
posted by tommasz at 11:57 AM on July 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


I get some of the frustration here but I think it's ironic that we're focusing on the words of the mom who got SWATted and not the assholes who are SWATting the families of women who write things that make them cranky.

I think it is important, though, not in order to pile on the mom (as some people are mischaracterizing the conversation), but because it is demonstrative of the pervasive attitude that this is something that the writer could've prevented. Even Sinders, who has spent a lot of time digging into the funhouse-mirror-logic that Gamergate uses to justify harassment describes feeling intensely guilty and trying to pin down exactly what might've been the precipitating tweet or article on her end. Her mom's question is a punchy one-line distillation of how that assumption that the victim must've done something, which is why people are fixing on it.
posted by kagredon at 12:00 PM on July 20, 2015 [12 favorites]


(FWIW: I didn't choose that line to quote to single out Caroline's mother. I just thought it was something that would convince folks to read the piece. :-/ )
posted by SansPoint at 12:04 PM on July 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


It is exciting to learn about the research and design work she is doing. It is aspects of the communication platform designs that make harassment possible, so there may be ways to change designs to make it harder to harass. The swatting attack is further proof that her work is necessary and important.
posted by neutralmojo at 12:06 PM on July 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


Nothing as serious as this, but my mom once answered the phone at my house, talked to an internet harasser, and then asked me what I'd done to make him so mad.

It wasn't that she was being a terrible person. She just hadn't experienced that sort of thing, and didn't realize what delicate little hothouse flowers men on the internet can be. It had never occurred to her that someone would go to those lengths to retaliate against someone for hurting their feelings, or even that someone would get their feelings personally hurt by simply criticizing something they liked.

I was more pissed that she answered my phone than I was that she assumed the guy had a legitimate complaint of some sort.
posted by ernielundquist at 12:15 PM on July 20, 2015 [7 favorites]


I want to do something about the disconnect between our law enforcement/political leaders and the modern day reality of Internet life. I mean do something more than donate money. I've never gone about trying to lobby political leaders to make things happen, but my US Senator (Brian Schatz) is young and left leaning and might actually get this whole internet thing.

The challenge, of course, is that trying to address the legal ramifications of threats from people you encounter on the Internet could very easily be changed by politicians into something Draconian and awful.

If we were going to craft a law to address Swatting in particular, what would we hope that law included? I'm certainly not qualified to write it, but I'll bug my congresscritters up and down to try and get it on their minds.
posted by Joey Michaels at 12:50 PM on July 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


The thing that really confuses me about swatting is that they're misusing police resources. Why aren't the police more proactive about that?

I'd imagine that there are plenty of existing laws that could be employed against swatters, and it is just a matter of tracking them down.

I'm a little old and creaky on telco stuff, but I can't think of any reason that a police station couldn't set up their systems to record ANI in addition to Caller ID, which should let them either directly ID swatters, or at least ID the spoofing service used and subpoena them for their records. (Please correct me if I'm wrong about that. I don't know how easy or common it might be to spoof ANI, but I'm guessing swatters aren't doing it with regularity.)

From there, there should be applicable criminal charges for things like false reporting and abuse of resources, as well as for all the attempted violence and trespass and whatever. And then, the victim could sue in civil court for monetary and non-monetary damages, which could be pretty substantial.

It just seems to me that it's already plenty illegal, but for some reason it isn't a priority.
posted by ernielundquist at 1:22 PM on July 20, 2015 [10 favorites]


One problem is that the monitoring and regulation of SWAT teams at the state or local level is inconsistent, where it exists at all. Equipment and initial outlay is usually procured through grants from the federal government (from military surplus), so there's little local oversight involved when SWAT teams are established. Given how often SWAT teams are deployed under circumstances where the need for force is...questionable, it seems like most departments are not performing adequate preliminary investigation and cost/benefit analysis, or adequate post-deployment debriefing and reporting. On a federal level, the granting process that DHS/FEMA uses needs to be re-evaluated, but a lot of this is something that needs to be addressed by pushing for more transparent and thorough police monitoring at the state/local level.
posted by kagredon at 1:29 PM on July 20, 2015 [9 favorites]


GamersGate harassment is not a problem individual women can fix, can make themselves safe from, but something that needs to be handled on a societal level as the criminal action it is. And it's companies like Reddit, like Twitter, who have the responsibility to take this serious, to take action in ways that individual people cannot.

Amen! It is only a matter of time before Swatting gets someone killed.
posted by LarryC at 1:41 PM on July 20, 2015


(The current pushes for mandatory cameras and for a centralized database of excessive/lethal force incidents are also good ways to support better policing--basically anything that makes "maybe see who is making this call and if the basic facts of the call check out" a priority over "SEND IN THE TANK")
posted by kagredon at 1:44 PM on July 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


The thing that really confuses me about swatting is that they're misusing police resources. Why aren't the police more proactive about that?

Because cops get off on playing soldier and it gives them an excuse to dress in black and kick somebody's door in? (Not that they need one these days.)
posted by entropicamericana at 1:45 PM on July 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


I'm still amazed that the standard operating procedure for deploying SWAT hasn't changed in response to Gamergate, et al.

The problem is that what you are asking here is "why has this nonsensical course of action not now been modified in sensible response to this other thing?" SWAT team proliferation and usage was insane before some asshole figured out that they could weaponize it.

emphasis mine, bits trimmed:
But in the one state where we do have the date, here’s what we know:
• Prince George’s County alone averaged well over one SWAT raid each day in 2012 (510 in total).
• In 2012, nearly 90 percent of the SWAT raids in Maryland were to serve search warrants.
• About two of every three SWAT raids used forced entry.
• Half the SWAT deployments in 2012 were for “Part II” crimes, the nonviolent class of crimes. The vast majority of those raids were to serve search warrants on people suspected of drug offenses.
• About 15 percent of the raids in 2012 resulted in no seized contraband of any kind. About a third of the raids resulted in no arrests.
You can't ask "why aren't they making changes to make this thing less fucked based on what we know now?" when the whole existence of the thing and its usage is predicated on nonsense in the first place. It is like questioning the comma placement in the sentence "blippity bloop turnip question the, Albert streetlight."
posted by phearlez at 1:48 PM on July 20, 2015 [26 favorites]


SWAT duties often come with extra pay.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 1:53 PM on July 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


I think SWAT teams get used like that because once a department has a team. it needs to use it to justify keeping it. And it doesn't have a better use, six days out of seven.
posted by SLC Mom at 2:09 PM on July 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


Chuffy, I am not aware of any deaths as a result of SWATting per se, but there are many deaths due to the SWAT team invading the wrong house, killing someone who was a resident but not the suspect, etc.

Which is why I said what I said...this could actually result in someone innocent being killed.
posted by Chuffy at 2:26 PM on July 20, 2015


I get some of the frustration here but I think it's ironic that we're focusing on the words of the mom who got SWATted and not the assholes who are SWATting the families of women who write things that make them cranky.

And yet even you put the agency on the women's writing making the men cranky.

Language is insidious. These are men who choose to act in a violent way in response to something they read.
posted by srboisvert at 2:44 PM on July 20, 2015 [8 favorites]


Part of the problem, I'm sure, is that if a police department admits that swatting somebody could result in somebody being killed they're also admitting that their swat team is careless enough to kill innocent people. So you've got some incentive for police departments to treat this as no big deal.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 2:56 PM on July 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


I understand as well as the next guy that the police in the US have become way too militarized and that SWAT teams are overused (my stupid little low crime city has two overlapping SWAT teams and way too many cops overall), but I am skeptical that your average SWAT team cop is so far gone that they're OK with being used as a tool for violent civilian stalkers.
posted by ernielundquist at 2:56 PM on July 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


So, to be clear, these police departments have the resources to outfit a SWAT team, but not the resources to record incoming calls? A thing that I, a random person with an iPhone, can do?

Can you do so while following the wiretap laws currently on the books in your state?
posted by sideshow at 2:58 PM on July 20, 2015


911 records are kept in most (all?) states, including those that require two-party consent for recording private conversations. Yes, obviously almostmanda the private citizen has legal restrictions but that's pretty obviously not what she was talking about regarding whether police departments are capable of this. Come on.
posted by kagredon at 3:06 PM on July 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Part of the problem, I'm sure, is that if a police department admits that swatting somebody could result in somebody being killed they're also admitting that their swat team is careless enough to kill innocent people. So you've got some incentive for police departments to treat this as no big deal.

This always comes up in these threads. Do you have any cites?

My expectation is that the person making the false report is charged with Accessory to Murder, and no one puts the blame on SWAT.
posted by sideshow at 3:08 PM on July 20, 2015 [2 favorites]




(though it should be note that the conclusion of that article is gross)
posted by Joey Michaels at 3:20 PM on July 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


911 calls are considered public records in most (all?) states, including those that require two-party consent for recording private conversations. Yes, obviously almostmanda the private citizen has legal restrictions but that's pretty obviously not what she was talking about regarding whether police departments are capable of this. Come on.

Sorry, guess I should have been less clever in my original response: SWATers call the police station front desk to do their bullshit because two party consent laws guarantee that the phone call will not be recorded.

It'd be pretty naive to believe that police departments wouldn't be recording every incoming call if it were admissible as evidence in a court of law.
posted by sideshow at 3:21 PM on July 20, 2015


most local precincts don’t record calls, so there is no way to trace the “prank.”

"Pretty naive"
posted by kagredon at 3:28 PM on July 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


SWAT teams are really lucrative. Officers get extra pay, they get shiny toys, and the department can really clean up if they seize a whole bunch of property. And once you have a SWAT team, everything looks like an opportunity to use it. The military-industrial complex has so much stuff they're practically giving it away to local departments.

I gather some folks have been able to preemptively call the police and say, "Please do not send over the SWAT team to my house as you may be asked to do, I am a woman on the internet," but this is not something anyone should have to do, ever.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 4:59 PM on July 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


JM, I think that the last paragraph in the WaPo article was meant to be sarcastic.
posted by brujita at 6:38 PM on July 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm not up on police procedures but wouldn't it make sense to send a squad or detectives to the location before showing up with SWAT and busting the door down? Oh and then there's the thing about some SWAT teams claiming to be private corporations...
posted by MikeMc at 7:08 PM on July 20, 2015


I read the mom's reaction as being about proportionality and that nice, normal people don't escalate an out-of-proportion response to something so non-existent or minor. It being more about shock than anything else. It's not so much that her daughter is to blame, but it violates the mom's sense of the way the world works so she's trying to find some explanation that fits her world view.

In her day, your friends were people you actually knew, and more or less, vetted. You shared opinions and other things with friends, not with complete random strangers on the Internet (some higher percentage of which turn out to be complete crawling maggots compared to your friends). It's a different model of the world and how interactions work.

If you want to hear about an opposite extreme ("my child can do no wrong"), go talk to anyone who has ever been a teacher (especially in k-12). All my friends who have been teachers have insane stories of parents who refuse to believe anything at-all negative about their darling little children. The kids, imo, are also often well on their way to being entitled, horrid adults that probably go on to harass people on the internet because they never figured out how to deal with conflict, not being "right" all the time or negotiating life in a reasonable way.
posted by clickingmongrel at 7:22 PM on July 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm a little late to this aspect of the discussion, but the mother's words (or rather, the daughter's reaction to them) resonated with me and I want to expand on that a little. Apologized if I ramble a little, I've got Benadryl onboard.

I, too, am a woman on the internet who has made men on the internet angry. They responded with a, sadly, pretty typical doxxing + "for a good time, call" urging. Except the public records they got my dox from were outdated and led back to my parents' house, not mine. Nothing so bad as swatting has happened (though I do have constant background anxiety that it might), but when I had to explain to my father why he'd gotten some really strange phone calls, the conversation that followed said a lot about why older and/or more internet-removed people struggle to understand why things like gamergate and online harassment are these huge, intractable cultural issues (my dad is not someone who would normally be characterized as an MRA, a rape denier, a victim blamer, or anything along those lines, which is what makes this even more striking):

Dad: So this is people from the internet, calling me? What did you do to piss them off that much?
Me: Well, Dad, this website I moderate banned some people and they're mad about it.
Dad: That one you volunteer for?
Me: Yeah.
Dad: Why don't you just stop using it, so this all goes away? They don't even pay you for it!
Me: Well, because I like everything else about it. I don't want to quit just because of this.
Dad: Well, it's my phone number they have. You have to think about other people, too.
Me: *mutters something dark about how I'll stop wearing short skirts too, while I'm at it*

From my father's point of view, this was not only cause-and-effect (Seahorses did something to make them mad, they came after Seahorses), but something that was simple to remedy: stop giving my energy to that website. If doing $thingILike causes bad stuff to happen, stop doing $thingILike. It made perfect sense to him that this kind of harassment wouldn't be worth my energy, and that the reasonable thing to do would just be to bow out.

Except it's a thing I like, and quitting doesn't turn off the internet mob anyway. It felt awful and a little bit like being victimized all over again to hear my father basically saying that my hobby, by virtue of being an internet "thing", was expendable, and that by refusing to give up my hobby, I was somehow ok-ing this harassment. I shouldn't have to give up something just because a bunch of jerks are horrible people, but the expectation of people outside this sort of internet-y bubble is that if doing X on the internet causes Y, then by continuing to do X you are, at best, refusing to help yourself. It's the old joke about "Doctor, it hurts when I do this" "So stop doing that", essentially. And while it may not be your fault that X got you harassed, you'd better be able to provide a damn good explanation for why you didn't just give up the silly internet thing you were doing. To many, many people, the question is somehow not "Who are these sociopaths and why are they allowed to run amok", but "Why are you provoking people who do this type of thing?"

The Powers That Be haven't really assimilated yet, especially on the legislative side of things, that the internet not only counts in Real Life, but often is real life for those of us below retirement age (and some of us above it). And that much like real real life, it's very costly (both emotionally and otherwise) to abandon your reputation, property, identity, or social circle; getting out of Dodge is not only not a first choice for most people, but isn't even a particularly good last-ditch solution in the era of ubiquitous internet record-keeping.
posted by Hold your seahorses at 7:52 PM on July 20, 2015 [20 favorites]


I just assumed the mother's reaction was a manifestation of the Just World Fallacy: something bad has happened and it can only have been a proportionate reaction to some other bad thing.
posted by um at 8:13 PM on July 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


fearfulsymmetry: "Not too long ago I was pretty shocked to discover that swatting has got so prevalent that there are compliation videos on youtube"

You can really tell who are the actual police officers and who are legal adults getting paid to play cops and robbers.
posted by nosh, daven, shtup at 9:28 PM on July 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


hi all,
it's caroline- the author of the article, actually.

this thread has been really wonderful to read!

just to clarify- my mom is really blunt and not super aware of her words- she was NOT blaming me. my mother's assumptions was like the police's- they had a very hard time understanding how this could be somewhat random and not someone that I had gotten into a serious fight with, someone that i knew personally, or someone that had one to one 'personally' antagonized me. i felt guilt b/c my mom was really an innocent bystander.

some online harassment does come from that kind of personal one to one high level stalking, but we're seeing an emergence of a new kind of online harassment where its one to numerous, where some of hte numerous will recur and sustain harassment, but the harassment feels like it's from a large, disjointed mob and less sustained. just that the harassment is coming in multiple times, and from multiple mobs. the make up of those mobs may have recurring characters, but it's harder to see/notice that, especially on twitter, with shared block lists, and users going through and blocking one by one their harassers. it's harder to see that pattern of a harasser attacking over and over again, especially if they make new accounts, etc.

side note: i had to call my local police precinct and go through what swatting was, how and why i could be a victim, what they needed to do- which is file a report that I was a potential victim to a SWATing prank specifically so they needed to call me before the SWAT team was deployed, and also the unit needs to be deployed to my house like guns down style (meaning not breaking down the door, etc.

further side note- bc this happened in my hometown, which i believe is mentioned as new orleans. new orleans regularly deploys their SWAT teams b/c new orleans has a lot of violent crime. so someone very likely could have been killed when my mom was SWATed. a few of my mom's neighbors were violently told to get on the ground and if they hadn't listened...well...that kind of haunts me.
if my mom didn't live in a majority white neighborhood, who knows what would have happened?

it was very scary, and guilt inducing to say the least.
posted by cellarpaper at 6:52 AM on July 21, 2015 [38 favorites]


Welcome, cellarpaper! Thank you for being someone who is proactive about finding ways to make women safer online. I wish your work wasn't necessary, but I am glad the world has badasses like you to make it happen.

One thing I found particularly chilling in your article was how many people went silent, or private, or gave up their accounts, because they were not willing to risk the GG attention. I wonder how many amazing voices have been silenced in this way?

Oh, and thank you also for doing the work to educate and work with the police force. I'm sure it was frustrating and time-consuming. I wonder if this is something other citizens could be doing proactively-- educating local police departments about online harassment tactics, SWATting, spoofed phone calls, etc. Forewarned is fore-unarmed, un-breaking down doors, un-shooting dogs.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 8:01 AM on July 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


hi a fiendish thingy!

yeah- a lot of REALLY dear friends made their accounts private or walked away from games, entirely. one girl came back recently but that it was really sad for me to watch that unfold. and that was one of the reasons i thought about what would a user need to feel safe? i mean,i find GG to be incredibly fascinating- the way the group runs and generates a very intense feedback loop. but i thought okay- here is their communication style, it's nearly identical to other harassment campaigns, this seems indicative of the system design, so how do i redesign the system to make users feel safe? it just turned out my user personas were real people that i knew :|

i thikn there is a lot citizens CAN do but SHOULD NOT have to do. but i think calling your local police precinct is a good place to start, to be honest. like even if you dont feel threatened by doxxing or swatting, just calling and saying hi i think i may be victimized, i do work on the internet, etc, and then explain what those things are is actually really helpful.
posted by cellarpaper at 8:06 AM on July 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Another thing citizens can do is go to their police commission meetings and demand demilitarization and accountability for SWAT team actions and elect local politicians who hold the police to these standards. The police are not a force of nature or supreme power; the politics that govern police departments are at a local enough level that it is very, very possible to make a tangible change in them with some organization and effort.
posted by animalrainbow at 8:59 AM on July 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


it was very scary, and guilt inducing to say the least.

I'm sure you know it already, but that was the thing that hit me the most, the guilt you felt when it's not your fault somebody decided to harass you that day.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:16 AM on July 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


hi martinwisse!

that's the thing most people said when i recounted the story to them- was just this mix of sorrow and pity and it's not your fault. and that's the thing, i KNOW it's not my fault but it was also such a normal reaction to feel bad when it happened. and to just carry that guilt around for a little bit.
it was tough :\
posted by cellarpaper at 1:05 PM on July 21, 2015


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