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Law Enforcement Is Treating Online Trolling Like a Serious Crime

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Though it's still difficult for people dealing with online harassment to get help from police, there is one kind of online troll that the police aren't ignoring anymore. These are swatters, people who call in SWAT teams on their targets for the lulz. A newly-arrested swatter, Brandon Wilson, is facing five years in prison.

Brandon Wilson, AKA Famed God, was arrested last week in Las Vegas in connection with a swatting last year in Illinois. Wilson pretended to be reporting a murder in order to get the local SWAT team to bust into the house of his victim. Wilson now faces extradition and — according to Ars Technica — charges that include "computer tampering, intimidation, and identity theft."

The message that law enforcement is sending now is clear. Swatting will no longer be tolerated as "online pranking," but instead treated like the criminal act it so obviously is. When SWAT teams break into a home, they can cause property damage and lives are at risk. And yet it remains a popular prank among gamers and hacking scenesters. A gamer who goes by Koopatroopa787 was swatted last week, and he later explained on YouTube why the experience was terrifying as well as intensely dangerous:

I had police point a gun at my little brothers because of you. They could have been shot, they could have died. Because you chose to swat my stream. I don't give a shit about what you have against me, or what I did to you. For that I am at a loss for words. Your gripe is with me. But do not involve my family in this. They don't deserve it.

We may have reached a tipping point in the debates over online trolling. Prosecuting swatters could be the first step in a greater acceptance that online threats should no longer be treated like jokes and pranks.