The struggle to get swatting taken seriously by law enforcement

Adrienne Lafrance reports on largely futile efforts to make the Internet "safe for women". It's not just that law enforcement doesn't take it seriously, even after "real world" consequences such as swatting, violence and bomb threats. They're so ignorant of the Internet they don't even know what they're looking at when you show it to them. Even when you're a member of congress…

Law enforcement had turned out in force, responding to a tip about an active shooter at [Massachusetts congresswoman Katherine] Clark's house—a report that turned out to be false and, Clark believes, a reaction to her legislative efforts to fight online harassment. What the Clarks likely experienced is known as swatting, the term for when someone deceives law enforcement into responding to a made-up emergency.

Months before all this, Clark had introduced the Interstate Swatting Hoax Act of 2015, a bill that would prohibit the false reporting of emergency situations—just the way federal law addresses bomb threats and fake reports of terrorism. Back in November, after first filing the legislation, Clark had talked to her local police about the possibility that she might become a target of such hoaxes because of the bill—but she still wasn't prepared for what she experienced that night in January.

Everyone seems to assume it's one of those "taken seriously only when someone gets killed" situations. But if and when this happens, there are still no guarantees. When police screw up like that, they're vigorous in defending themselves and the contributing causes of their failure. That's the toxic beauty of swatting: two entirely different sources of moral hazard — police impunity and the caller's anonymity — combining to target victims (mostly vulnerable minorities) in a way that leaves everyone with excuses.