The online world gives people a mask of anonymity, and it can often blur the line between what is real and what is virtual. For these reasons, many residents of New York and elsewhere may say things in online comments and social media that they would never say in public. Online bullying and pranks might be thought of as harmless, but could also cross the line and become a criminal activity.

A Los Angeles, California, man is being held in jail without bond after a gaming prank that resulted in the death of a man from Wichita, Kansas. Reportedly, an online argument that took place during a game led to another gamer requesting a “swat” prank on the Kansas resident. The Los Angeles man called authorities in Kansas, saying the supposed suspect had killed his father and was holding other family members hostage. Officers arrived at the unsuspecting man’s home and fatally shot him when he moved his hands, falsely interpreting the movement as reaching for a weapon.

Swatting is a prank in which someone makes a false report to authorities to lure SWAT teams or police to another person, who typically has done nothing wrong and is not expecting officers to show up. When someone makes a false police report, they may think that they will not face any consequences, or they might not realize that they are committing a crime. It is important for those who participate in social media and gaming to understand the difference between harmless banter and an action that may lead to an arrest.

Source: CNN, “Police kill a man at his home while responding to a fake call,” Doug Criss, Carma Hassan and AnneClaire Stapleton, Dec. 30, 2017