As a live streamer on a site/app called YouNow for almost a year now, I have thought about a lot of things in preparing for a broadcast - what will I talk about and provide to viewers today, what content am I bringing to the table, how can I help others, how can I use the platform to make a positive difference and promote acceptance, equality, advocacy, empowerment, and activism...but swatting wasn’t one of them.
I had never even heard of swatting...until it happened to me. During my live broadcast the evening of June 17th, I started receiving phone calls from random phone numbers, the first being 666-666-6666. At first, I thought it was creepy but that someone was just messing with me. Then came the text messages. Telling me to answer the phone. Beginning a countdown. 10 minutes. 8 minutes. Demanding me to write something specific on my forehead (and in hindsight, something that would have threatened my life even further) or a SWAT team would be called to my address. As the calls and texts came in, my confusion and fear escalated.
I realized that this person or persons were watching me live on broadcast, as the next text I received was a direct quote of something I had just said out loud - “This is getting a little scary.” My personal information was then disclosed by someone unfamiliar in the chat, including my home address. Threats of pipe bombs came via text. It became overwhelming and I shut off my phone. Though I was genuinely scared, I still thought someone was playing a (very) mean prank on me and my default is to not let others control me or demand me to do things. #Nodemands is actually something I say during my broadcasts. So, I ignored it and went on with my broadcast the best I could, naturally shaken up but it had been awhile since I had caught up with my YouNow family and I wasn’t about to let someone take that away from us.
I continued for about 30 more minutes before ending the broadcast at a time that felt natural. As I turned my phone back on and it was flooded with new missed calls and texts, I contemplated what actions I could take. I thought about calling my phone carrier and was just about to call and run my situation by local law enforcement when I saw a flash of light across my window. “You’re losing it,” I told myself but then it happened again. Reality set in. A team of law enforcement was in fact surrounding my apartment, prepared to respond to an emergency situation - in my case, multiple precincts in my area had been contacted and told there was a hostage situation involving 5 hostages at my address and “people were going to die.” Surely this wasn’t happening.
It wasn’t until after the fact, in describing my incident to a friend later that night, that I learned about the dangerous new trend “swatting.” Come to find out, what happened to me has a name. It has been happening to many live streamers (including other broadcasters on my own platform YouNow) and has resulted in death. Make no mistake, this is not a prank. This is a death threat. It’s calling in a false report (such as a bomb threat, murder, hostage situation or other alleged incident) in an attempt to bring about the dispatch of a large number of armed police officers to an unsuspecting victim’s address. It is described as terrorism due to its use to intimidate and create the risk of injury or death. And those responsible for this disgusting criminal act hope it all happens live in front of their eyes.
The days and weeks following the incident left me processing so many emotions. Discouragement and sadness in humanity. How or why would someone want to do this? Gratefulness to still be alive and healthy. Thankful it wasn’t worse. And the hard lesson that some people really care about you and others (often those you thought you were closest to) don’t give a fuck - including your own employer. I notified my YouNow manager of my incident immediately and she assured me that leadership would be meeting and reaching out to me. I have yet to hear from anyone at the company, let alone the Founder/CEO who I have met in person. I live in NYC where their headquarters is located; it wouldn’t be hard to ask me to lunch or coffee or to simply take a minute to give me a call and see if I’m okay. Message received loud and clear - I can make money for you but that’s where my worth ends.
Not only do I not feel valued as a human being working for this company but then to find out it has happened to other YouNow broadcasters previously! How are you not educating your community and more importantly, why??? Why on earth do you not prioritize protecting your content creators? Shame on you. It wouldn’t be difficult to create a welcome packet (just like most people receive when starting any other job). YouNow has clearly been made aware of the issues and dangers of swatting but do nothing to warn and educate their community. For example, I would have loved to know about setting up a VPN and how it’s an easy way to protect myself. Instead, my thanks for promoting YouNow to my 47K followers on Twitter and bringing people to the platform was “Congratulations, you’re a partner!” In other words, now go make us some money. The only logical answer, in my opinion, is that they want and consciously chose to sweep it under the rug. YouNow’s audience and revenue is decreasing rapidly by the day and news of swatting won’t help.
Finally, I must address victim blaming. I couldn’t believe the amount of times people said things to me like, “That’s why I don’t give out my address” or “You should really be more careful with your personal information.” Guess what, guys? I am! And I have taken extra precautions to see what information is searchable/available and have it removed from third party sites. There are crafty hackers out there regardless. People have also indicated that this happened to me because of my political views and advocacy on Twitter. For your information, from what I know about what happened, this does not appear in any way to be connected to politics or a difference of personal opinions. And I do not deserve to be swatted for having a voice and exercising my right to use it.