Big Issues

What’s Up With Twitch Streamers Being ‘Swatted’?

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Twitch is a gaming platform that allows you to luxuriate in the visual spectacle of watching live game streams, but what happens when that voyeurism tips into something much more sinister? 

You may have guessed that I’m talking about swatting — a dangerous form of ‘pranking’ taking place in the Twitch community that literally no-one seems to have a solution for.

Here’s how it works: in order to be ‘swatted’, an individual tracks down a streamer’s address before calling US emergency services and basically making a prank call, falsely alleging that some type of extreme violence is going down. The idea is to incite a response from a SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) Team at that location.

Swatting isn’t exclusive to the world of Twitch — Rihanna, Justin Bieber and Ashton Kutcher have all been swatted before — but streamers are often victims of the practice. Why? The spectacle: the person who called in the SWAT Team can watch the Twitch streamer cinematically get their house raided in real time. 

Is Swatting Dangerous?

Yup! The practice of swatting Twitch streamers has actually gotten people killed — in 2017, a Wichita police officer shot a man after a fake tip relating to the game Call Of Duty. The swatter who made the hoax call, Tyler Rai Barriss, ended up being sentenced to 20 years in prison.

In 2020, a 60-year-old man was swatted by someone who wanted his Twitter handle, sadly leading to him passing away from a heart attack. And earlier this year Twitch streamer supcaitlin shared that her non-English speaking grandparents were similarly raided by a SWAT team. 

Is Swatting Legal?

In the US, states like Ohio and Kentucky made swatting illegal, but The Washington Post reckons that laws around swatting are inconsistent and tricky to enforce given the ease in which perpetrators can hide their real identities by faking phone numbers and IP addresses.  

Twitch reps have also condemned the practice, calling it against the platform’s official guidelines. “Swatting is a violation of Twitch’s Community Guidelines,” reads the site. “If someone threatens to or admits to swatting you or someone else while on stream, you can file a report and we will investigate and enforce against their Twitch account accordingly.”

Does Swatting Happen In Australia? 

Swatting doesn’t appear to be a thing in Australia given that we don’t technically have SWAT teams – but there was reportedly one incident of Australian swatting in 2014, when a fake emergency call to the police was made. 

Matt McGrath, an 18-year old resident of Arncliff, was targeted by 16 armed police officers amid claims that he’d murdered his mother and was holding his father hostage. According to SBS, police said at the time that the matter was being investigated as a case of “public mischief”. 

So while we’re mostly being spared from the chaos down here in Australia, the persistence of swatting in the US, combined with a rise in practices like doxxing, would suggest that the law still has some way to go when it comes to catching up with streamers and TikTokers doing dumb shit, mostly because it’s easy and they can.