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A “harmless” online prank can be anything but harmless

There are people of all ages in Virginia and elsewhere who play video games online. Many of these games involve countless other strangers, some of whom cooperate in teams or compete against each other. Not surprisingly, these games can be emotionally charged. It can also be easy for players to forget that they are interacting with real people, and they may escalate an online argument into something worse.

Reportedly, a dispute over a popular online shooter game resulted in one player asking a man from Los Angeles, California, to play a “swatting” prank on a man from Wichita, Kansas. The man called authorities in December, pretending to be the Kansas man, and said that he had killed a family member and was holding others hostage. When officers arrived at the innocent man’s home, they shot and killed him when he made a sudden move, which they misinterpreted as reaching for a weapon. The Los Angeles man is being held without bail, and he is facing felony charges of making a false police call.

Many of those who spend time online might think that such a prank is humorous, without realizing that they are committing a crime. It is also possible for unsuspecting players to get pulled into an illegal prank without their consent or knowledge. While the Internet has been around a few decades, much of the etiquette and laws surrounding it are still new and ambiguous. This is why legal counsel is important for those accused of a crime.

Source: CNN, "Suspect faces felony charge of fatally 'swatting' man 1,400 miles away," Eliott C. McLaughlin, Jan. 4, 2018

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