A Manhasset family was astonished when, a few weeks back, a SWAT team descended on their house. This strange tale shows how online gaming, online bullying, and the ubiquity of online personal information can have huge impact in the real world.
The SWAT team was called in after an online bully was thwarted in taking over a gaming discussion.
According to two Manhasset parents (who asked not to be named so as not to be subject to further harassment), they were getting ready to watch the Super Bowl with some friends, when suddenly a team of police officers surrounded the home.
“Thank God the door was open” exclaimed the homeowner, “I was just looking to close the door when police rushed at me.”
Here’s the sequence of events, as pieced together by police and the family after the fact:
On Super Bowl Sunday, the family was hosting a Super Bowl party. Earlier that day, the son had been online in a gaming chat room. It was one he had created with another Manhasset High School student for aficionados of a popular game called Minecraft—a seemingly harmless Lego building game. The boys had created the room for Minecraft gamers to talk strategy. One of the boys hosted the site on a server he had built and the other established a PayPal account to receive fees and royalties for hints sold when using the Minecraft website.
Using some caution, the boys didn’t use totally accurate information when setting up the accounts, but enough information had to be accurate in order to establish the PayPal account.
The kids had been receiving messages from one of the participants to “give us master in your chat,” meaning yield control of the site. The boys refused, the conversation continued, growing more aggressive. Eventually, the cyberbully threatened to “full dox” the boys if they didn’t relinquish control of their group. To “dox” someone means to publish all their personal information found online.
The bully continued to hassle the boys and threatened to “swat” them. To “swat” means to place an emergency call to police (typically via Skype so that it is almost impossible to trace) so that a special weapons and tactics team gets deployed.
That’s exactly what happened.
Much to the mom’s surprise, that evening, ten police cars were dispatched to the Manhasset house for a “burglary in process” and were poised to break down the door.
According to a Nassau Police Department Public Information Officer Eric Evanson, a call was received at the former 6th precinct—now called a policing station—via Skype. The caller identified himself as a Manhasset boy who recently had moved into the area. He told the police that he was upstairs in his home and that three masked men were downstairs fighting with his parents. The officer called in a burglary in process and a team was deployed.
Besides the scare of having police swarming all over the neighborhood, no one was hurt, but the incident demonstrates the impact of personal information prevalence on the web and how it can be manipulated anonymously to cause distress.
According to police, “stand down” was called and the call was labeled a false alarm. The culprit is still not known. Why the bully wanted to become master of the chat room is unknown. The IP address seems to come from outside the country, but cannot be confirmed.
Instead of board games, children are now playing games online with each other. There is no physical interaction, but the ability to bully still exists particularly with anonymous players. Most online games allow anyone to play the games. The participants can be from anywhere in the world, and they can reach out and touch you where you live.
Kids can create websites easily, especially with the technology available that create a domain in a few easy steps. You can do anything as long as you have a debit card. Parents today provide their children with debit cards to encourage self-reliance and money management.
It is no longer the bully who hangs out on the corner, but the one who is online who can live anywhere in the world and knows where you live. Perhaps face-to-face socialization will make a comeback.