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Major Twitch subreddit debates whether swatting posts should be allowed (update)

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Following reported incident of well-known streamer

Shootings In Cambridge, Watertown Draw Massive Police Response
SWAT police entering a home in Watertown MA in 2013.
Mario Tama/Getty Images

A major Twitch subreddit gained sitewide attention yesterday, thanks to a discussion on whether threads about swatting incident threads should be allowed.

The discussion followed an incident with notorious livestreamer Paul “Ice_Poseidon” Denino, who was reportedly swatted during a visit to a hypnotherapist in Los Angeles. Videos of Denino actually being swatted while sitting in the hypnotherapist’s office, and his reaction stream just after, quickly found their way to various subreddits. This isn’t the first time that Denino has been swatted — he was famously banned from Twitch for being swatted on a plane —but the most recent incident kickstarted a new discussion.

A thread posted on Livestream Fail, a subreddit with more than 210,000 members who often talk about some of Twitch’s most recognizable and controversial casters, called for action from the moderators to stop allowing swatting posts as it encouraged the behavior.

A moderator who goes by ImNATT finally replied, saying the moderation team wasn’t going to “ban things because you don’t like them.”

“If you want a space, that is safe from this type of content, you can either download the RES Extension and filter the word swatting or downvote and move on,” ImNATT wrote. “Swatting will not stop by /r/LivestreamFail banning posts about it ...”

The conversation that ensued led to more than 10,000 reactions and 420 comments.

A Reddit representative told Polygon that the company’s user policy “prohibits content that encourages, glorifies, incites, or calls for violence or physical harm against an individual or a group of people.”

“In the specific case of SWAT-ing, a user that is planning or threatening to SWAT would be considered in violation of Reddit’s policy,” the representative said.

Videos of swatting incidents, however, fall under the news category and can be shared around the site without worry of consequence. Although the company hasn’t outright banned it, users now question whether moderators may be ethically responsible for deterring the glorification or sharing of content that depicts dangerous and potentially life-threatening behavior.

It’s really a discussion about media contagion

“Media contagion effect” is a phrase often associated with coverage of school shooters. The idea is that saying a shooter’s name over and over again in coverage can spur copycat incidents. “Most shooters desired fame and wished to emulate a previous mass shooter,” according to a study on the subject. It’s why more news networks and publications have decided to not use the name of school shooter, restricting the amount of times it’s said on air. Suspects and perpetrators are simply referred to as “the shooter.”

A 2016 report on media contagion effect expressed concerns that “extensive news coverage of mass shooters, their methods and motivations, inspires copycat killers because they essentially are given a blueprint to crime, and a glorified model with whom to identify and emulate in the pursuit of infamy.”

The theory goes that the more people speak about mass shootings and showed coverage of it, the more likely it is that copycats could figure out how to receive the same media coverage for similar attacks. People are suggesting that the same could be said for swatters, who learn how to do it from reading Reddit threads, watching videos and seeing people talk about it online.

“I am 99% of the time against censorship of almost any kind but this is the kind of dangerous psychological behavior that gets fed directly from this subreddit,” another commenter wrote. “You just know these kids pop open this subreddit immediately after it happens and spam refresh to see the reactions. They get their kicks off of it. All trolls need a reaction, prevent a reaction from occurring in the first place. Yes mirrors will be found elsewhere but that’s a good thing.

“Less impact, less views, less swatting.”

Parts of Reddit now want to follow that same policy when it comes to swatting. After Livestream Fail’s thread made it the front page of r/all, which collects the most upvoted threads on the entire site, a poll was conducted to determine whether swatting posts should be banned. The responses are interesting: Forum members don’t want to censor anyone, but they also don’t want to give swatting incidents increased recognition in the subreddit.

“Any type of attention that swatting receives will just give the callers a sense of validation and in turn, more of an incentive to keep doing it,” one user wrote. “As long as clips or posts about swatting keep getting upvoted to the top, the fragile egos of the callers will continue to be fed like a vicious cycle. Considering how huge (and even notorious, maybe) this particular subreddit has become in the streaming community, it obviously carries huge weight if that kind of content makes its way to the top.

“Banning it won’t stop it from happening of course, but it’s the responsible and sensible thing to do in order to at least try to contain it as much as possible.”

Like Reddit, almost every major website has policies in place to prevent people from inciting swatting — but posting videos of a swatting attack gets a little murkier. YouTube’s policy on dangerous content says:

While it might not seem fair to say you can’t show something because of what viewers might do in response, we draw the line at content that intends to incite violence or encourage dangerous or illegal activities that have an inherent risk of serious physical harm or death.

There are loopholes, however. YouTube, like Reddit, will allow certain content to remain on the platform if the purpose of the video is deemed educational or newsworthy.

A video that depicts dangerous acts may be allowed if the primary purpose is educational, documentary, scientific or artistic (EDSA), and it isn’t gratuitously graphic. For example, a news piece on the dangers of choking games would be appropriate, but posting clips out of context from the same documentary might not be.

What happens next?

Swatting is getting more attention than ever before. For example, a video from 2014 of CounterStrike: Global Offensive player Kootra getting swatted while he streamed on Twitch gained millions of views and gained international news coverage.

In Kansas, representatives are currently trying to pass a bill following an event in December, when police shot and killed a man after responding to an emergency call that turned out to be a swatting incident. The victim reportedly had nothing to do with the initial altercation.

As the practice continues to grow, companies like Twitch openly condemn swatting threats as among the most severe actions streamers can commit. The company’s community guidelines state that “acts and threats of violence will be taken seriously and are considered zero-tolerance violations and all accounts associated with such activities will be indefinitely suspended,” and calls out “attempts or threats to hack, DDOS, or SWAT others.”

Reddit moderators are trying to follow suit. Four months ago, a post on Reddit’s biggest moderator subreddit, r/modnews, specified how moderators should handle posts or threads that could lead to actual violence.

Going forward, we will take action against any content that encourages, glorifies, incites, or calls for violence or physical harm against an individual or a group of people; likewise, we will also take action against content that glorifies or encourages the abuse of animals This applies to ALL content on Reddit, including memes, CSS/community styling, flair, subreddit names, and usernames.

As for actual Reddit users, the majority of people who have voted in the Livestream Fail poll this week seem to agree that mods should tamp down on threads about violence. Nearly 4,000 votes were submitted in two hours, with 70 percent of people saying the subreddit should ban posts on swatting.

Reddit swat
Swatting poll results on r/LivestreamFails.
Reddit

Moderators have not yet said if it will ban swatting-related content. Polygon has reached out to Livestream Fail moderator ImNATT for more information.

Update (March 12): Livestream Fail will no longer allow members to post clips or link out to videos that relate to swatting incidents. The moderators detailed what the new actions mean, and their full comments are below:

Per poll results yesterday, all swatting clips and discussion are now banned from being posted from the subreddit.

In addition, linking to any other subreddits that show swatting, streamers talking about swatting, news articles regarding swatting, external sites discussing swatting, or requesting swatting videos is now prohibited and will result in a ban.