Trends public relations folk should probably avoid: Swatting


What sounds like an earnest attempt to do better at school is actually amongst the most bizarre, potentially dangerous, and downright surprising trends we’ve ever come across. The kind of thing that takes cross-platform interaction to a whole new level, you might say.

Last week staff at this Manchester-based public relations and marketing agency stumbled upon a story about 17-year-old Rafael Castillo, a teenage lad from Long Island, USA, who was doing what so many teenage lads (and men) the world over love doing; having a game on Call of Duty. Going up against unseen online competitors, after felling one of his gaming foes the defeated player put in a phone call to American police, telling them he was Rafael, and explaining that he just killed his mum and would probably turn the gun on more people imminently if something wasn’t done to stop him.

Cue an entire armed response team of highly trained SWAT types who descended on the unassuming house in the belief there had been a fatal shooting and the armed and apparently unhinged Rafael was still inside. Needless to say, what they found after breaking through the door couldn’t have been further removed from that nightmare image, with the joke both in extremely bad taste (especially given the poor track record the U.S. has with firearms and youth) and resulting in a complete waste of time for all involved.

Apparently, though, it isn’t an anomaly. According to police this is another example of a rising craze known as ‘Swatting’, wherein prank calls are made to authorities in the hope of sending gun-toting marksmen into innocent addresses. “In this bizarre world of Swatting,” Long Beach Police Commissioner Michael Tangney told press, “you get points for the helicopter, for the police cars, for the Swat team, for the type of entry. It’s very sophisticated. Unfortunately, it’s very dangerous”

This incident has already been followed by a similar scenario, which unfolded in South Dakota on Thursday, 27th April. According to local news site Argus Leader, “[a]pproximately 20 law enforcement officers in Moody County responded to the prank made by someone claiming to be a 16-year-old from Ward. The caller told emergency operators that he had shot one of his parents, had three family members held hostage and had rigged the house with a bomb that would explode if the doors were opened.”

Again, it was all a lie, and the alleged culprit (who didn’t even live at the address anymore) had done nothing wrong, although interestingly his mother explained that someone on a forum ‘used by video gamers’ had told her son to look outside his house just before the cops arrived. Strange, slightly disturbing, and if nothing else destined to raise a few more questions as to whether it’s a great idea or not to raise an entire generation Grand Theft Auto and similarly minded interactive titles, those looking for the most eyebrow-raising trend to emerge this year should consider the hunt over. Whether or not you want to try and include it in a campaign is, of course, entirely up to you.



Image © Alison Klein / WEBN News