Swatting is not a new trend and has been deployed against numerous gamers, internet users and content creators for well over a decade. In 2017, it resulted in the death of a 28-year-old man, Andrew Finch, after a dispute over a Call of Duty match. The player responsible for the swatting, Casey Viner, was sentenced to 15 months in prison; the man who made the call at his request, Tyler Barriss, received 20 years. More recently, states like Ohio and Kentucky have introduced bills to make swatting a felony, with the latter state’s version becoming law earlier this year.
Nonetheless, laws around swatting — where they exist at all — remain inconsistent and difficult to enforce due to the ease with which harassers can use software to spoof phone numbers and IP addresses, allowing them to call far outside their own localities and obscure their real identities. It’s also a uniquely visible tactic in the world of livestreaming, giving harassers the power to dramatically interrupt broadcasts such that viewers and streamers can’t help but take notice. Twitch stars Félix “xQc” Lengyel and Kaitlyn “Amouranth” Siragusa have claimed to sometimes grapple with multiple swattings per week. The former relocated as a result.
In addition to Sorrenti, Twitch star Adin Ross, “Call of Duty”-focused Twitch streamer Nadia Amine and controversial YouTube streamer Darren “IShowSpeed” Watkins were also swatted — the latter three during live broadcasts that remain viewable online. In Ross’s case, several officers could be seen entering his room with weapons drawn. Ross ended his stream shortly after. Watkins, meanwhile, was handcuffed by a similarly sized squad of officers, with one forcing Watkins’s camera person to end the stream. After a tense moment involving multiple officers, Amine managed to befriend one, who encouraged Twitch chat to subscribe to her channel before leading her away to discuss what had happened.
Sorrenti was not broadcasting when she was swatted. She relayed the details on social media, saying she awoke last weekend to the sound of police yelling from her doorway. According to Sorrenti, a harasser had sent an email impersonating her to city councilors in London, Ontario, saying she was in possession of an illegal firearm, had killed her mother and planned to go to city hall and “shoot every cisgendered person that I see.” She said one of the officers who showed up at her residence pointed an assault rifle at her face.
Sorrenti was arrested and later released, but she said the London Police Service confiscated her and her fiance’s electronics — including Sorrenti’s work computer and phone — and deadnamed her multiple times, meaning that officers called her by her pre-transition name and misgendered her.
“The fact that a fake email led to the London Police Service booking me under my deadname reveals the prejudices many police have toward transgender people,” Sorrenti said in her video about the incident. “Instead of the police helping me, they terrorized me and my loved ones, traumatizing me and leaving my fiance and I on the verge of losing everything. They victimized me for being the victim of a hate crime.”
Sorrenti’s situation came to the attention of politicians like Jagmeet Singh, leader of Canada’s New Democratic Party (and extremely sporadic Twitch streamer).
“Trans folk, and especially trans activists, deserve the freedom to make themselves heard,” Singh said on Twitter. “Not to be doxed and swatted, arrested at gunpoint and deadnamed repeatedly. No one deserves this.”
The London Police Service has since acknowledged these actions in a statement published online.
“It has come to my attention that Ms. Sorrenti was referred to during her time in London police custody by an incorrect name and gender,” wrote chief Steve Williams of the London Police Service. “We acknowledge the distress this has caused Ms. Sorrenti and we will be reviewing the occurrence to understand how that might have happened.”
In the wake of the swatting, Sorrenti launched a GoFundMe for the purposes of moving, recouping her and her fiance’s losses and putting together a legal-defense fund against “ongoing and future threats to my safety.” So far it has collected over $80,000.
In tweets and broadcasts addressing his own swatting, Ross described the police force that entered his home using much more favorable terms, but the situation still left him rattled.
“Traumatizing, man,” he said of the experience in a video posted to Twitter. “It’s scary. It comes with being in this position. [My partner and I] are still in shock. … It’s a sick, cruel world we live in.”
Amine was similarly shaken: “Scary world we live in,” she tweeted.
Within the livestreaming community, the recent swattings have led to discussions about what can be done. Many streamers have pointed out that police departments often make note of specific residences after bogus claims, so as to be wary of future suspicious calls linked to a particular address.
In a statement to The Washington Post, Twitch recommended concerned streamers reach out to law enforcement as soon as possible. Some streamers have suggested that Twitch could create a system of its own to preemptively inform police departments of potential swatting victims, but Twitch noted that it faces restrictions in the sorts of personal information it can responsibly provide to any party — law enforcement included.
In the statement, Twitch explained that it has been working to mitigate swatting in other ways.
“We operate an industry-leading off-service policy that allows us to take action against Twitch users who have committed egregious, violent off-service offenses,” the company said in its statement. “We have quadrupled the size of our global law enforcement response team over the past two years as our own audience has grown, and this team of trained professionals works 24/7 to build relationships with local and national law enforcement officials, and assist swiftly with criminal data requests that can shed light on law enforcement investigations.”
One organization, the Seattle Online Broadcasters Association (SOBA), has taken things a step further. The nonprofit, which supports the content creator community in Seattle, consulted on the Seattle Police Department’s 2018 establishment of an anti-swatting registry that allows residents to proactively flag themselves as potential swatting victims. In addition, SOBA also worked with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) to advocate for anti-swatting legislation which ultimately passed in 2020. It also pushed for several local creators to be placed on the Seattle Police Department’s Swatting Mitigation Advisory Committee.
“Our hope is that by providing resources, both the Seattle Police Department and local broadcasters can better inform themselves of the risk and take measures appropriate to them to counteract the threat,” said John Higdon, co-founder and president of SOBA. “We encourage other communities to build relationships with local government and community organizations and deal with potential issues proactively.”
But Higdon cautioned that even these measures do not guarantee safety from swatting. Additionally, outside of Seattle it can be difficult to make such arrangements with local law enforcement without first having been a victim; Sorrenti said in her video that her brother had requested for Sorrenti and her family to be put on a list by London Police Service prior to the swatting, to no avail. Some streamers are also wary of being put on a police list to begin with.
American SWAT teams have faced public scrutiny in recent years. Devised decades ago to take on bank robberies, hostage situations and other emergencies, SWAT teams are now being used to serve warrants to private residences for instances that often pertain to drug offenses. SWAT strikes have only grown more prevalent over the years, from around 3,000 per year in 1980 to as many as 80,000 per year as of 2014.
“[Swatting] works as a threat and a form of harassment only because police interactions in general, and SWAT raids in particular, carry the potential for deadly harm and terror,” said Ayobami Laniyonu, assistant professor at the center for criminology and sociolegal studies at the University of Toronto. “What’s troubling with swatting is the breathtaking ease at which online trolls can put people — frequently women, people of color, people who identify as LGBTQ+ and folks at the intersection of those identities — in mortal danger simply by placing prank calls to the police who are there, ostensibly, to keep the public safe.”
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