The Independent: This man has been swatted 47 times for making a joke

Swatting continues because technology and accountability are lacking, says UC cybersecurity expert

Over five years ago, Patrick S. Tomlinson, a Milwaukee-based science fiction author, made a quip on X (then Twitter) about Norm Macdonald not being funny to him. Since then, according to an article in The Independent, Tomlinson has been swatted 47 times — at various locations, to include his home and on book tours. 

headshot of Gregory Winger

Cybersecurity expert Gregory Winger, assistant professor of political science in UC's School of Public and International Affairs.

“Swatting” is when a team of armed police officers are sent to a location based on an erroneous 911 call that a specific person is perpetrating a dangerous crime at that location.

With a simple phone call, a cadre of “haters” focused on Tomlinson and didn’t let up … that is until a recent arrest. That arrest involved a 17-year-old who sold “swats” online and might be linked to the unrelenting attacks on Tomlinson. The investigation is still underway.

“People seem willing to do things online that they would never do in real life. And this is an illustration of where that kind of online harassment mentality can lead. It’s never been good, but now it’s actually dangerous,” Gregory Winger, a cybersecurity expert and an assistant professor in UC’s School of Public and International affairs, told The Independent.

Swatters, who often boast of their malicious activities on social media, are typically prosecuted under state False Information and Hoaxes laws but there is no federal statute, said Winger; even though swats have been made on political figures, religious leaders, celebrities and private citizens and cost tens of thousands of dollars in vital resources.  

The FBI, he said, appears to be taking “swatting” more seriously, but he said there is a need for more sophisticated IT systems in police call centers to identify the location of where the phone call is coming from, and mandatory reporting of swats.

Read the entire article.

Featured image at top by South_Agency/iStock.

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