The threatening phone calls designed to trigger emergency responses at schools, businesses or even the home of a congresswoman are termed "swatting." The word has been in the lexicon for several years but is now becoming disturbingly common.
Not every bomb threat phoned in to a school in the Berkshires or Massachusetts during a recent wave was necessarily "swatting," which means a call designed to send a SWAT team to the scene, weapons drawn. But the common thread, beyond, of course, anonymity, is use of an electronic voice or G-mail account with a fake name to make it difficult for authorities to track the source of a threat.
So who is swatting? A series of threats to kill schoolchildren in an Arizona school was traced by the FBI to a 29-year-old man in New York using a G-mail account to score "points" in an online game. A Connecticut 23-year-old pleaded guilty last year to phoning in threats to five schools along with fellow Xbox Live players. Swatters are "highly intelligent, socially poorly adjusted," a security consultant told AP.
Representative Katherine Clark, a Massachusetts Democrat from Melrose, has been a leader in combatting online harassment, particularly when directed against women. She took the fight to swatting last year when she introduced the "Internet Swatting Act," which she says will close loopholes in laws against bomb threats and other hoaxes and add severe penalties, including prison sentences of up to 20 years.
Last Sunday night, Ms. Clark and family were awakened to the spectacle of police cars gathering around their home and officers emerging with guns drawn. They had been "swatted" by an anonymous call to Melrose police about an active shooter.
The congresswoman praised police for a quick but measured response in anticipation of a likely hoax, and she told The Boston Globe she would not be intimidated into abandoning her fight against swatters, a particularly vicious form of Internet troll. Passage of her bill guaranteeing prison terms for pranksters who disrupt schools and could cause real tragedies, may inspire swatters to grow up.