It is impossible to describe the impact of the internet, and even more impossible to place that impact on a moral compass. The internet is a place where millions of people who may never have met can connect, it has formed new communities and, importantly, has greatly furthered discourse concerning gender, sexuality, race, and various other marginalised communities by acting as a means for activists to communicate. What the internet has also done is create a space for mob mentality to act anonymously, almost without repercussion. It is this side of the internet that Swatted deals with.
Directed by Ismaël Joffroy Chandoutis, Swatted confronts a very particular form of online trolling. Getting “swatted” refers to a sport among trolls, in which they find out a live-streamer’s name and address, fake their caller ID and make a phony police call. What follows is said live-streamer getting arrested, often with excessive force, live on camera, allowing the trolls to revel in their distress. Swatted deals with a number of case studies, from adults to an upsetting scene in which we see a young child of no more than eight get “swatted”. Each of the examples are much the same: an at first normal group of people viewing their video are suddenly turned upon the actions of one troll, the action being the swatting, making the comments blow up in a frenzy of “swatted” and laughing emojis.
Unlike many documentaries interrogating the internet, that look at issues such as BitCoin and the lack of privacy online, Swatted looks at something constantly present in the back of the mind of all those who are online: the fact that the internet is, essentially, open water. Projecting oneself online, much like in real life, means you face consequences, be it your gaming skills being applauded or your political views being challenged. Online, everything becomes distorted rather than a discussion. The open nature of the internet creates a maelstrom of comments, very few of which are helpful.
Trolling is presented in Swatted for what it is: a vile tactic to cause harm and upset, for a crowd of people who have become detached from reality. It captures a very real problem with the internet; much of its ability for criticism, and the way in which we react online, has been made to feel acceptable through the normalisation of rather despicable practices. Sites such as 4Chan birthed the idea of trolling and swatting, and even now it often begins with targets being identified on there. In Swatted we hear a young man describe repeatedly blocking a commenter on his stream for misogynistic language and harassment of his partner, which ended in the young man getting swatted. The swatting, a reaction to being removed, is seen as a form of comeuppance. The use of public ridicule as a form of punishment on the internet, albeit in less extreme ways, has been completely normalised online despite the fact it almost always simply causes upset, and often distracts from the issue at hand.
The internet is an incredibly complex space, and there is no clear or obvious way to navigate it. What Swatted does, as a film, is manage to clearly home in on an incredibly specific activity, one that causes harm and acts as an extreme example of something all too common. It holds accountable those who use the internet as a tool to publicly ridicule, treating trolling and its perpetrators with a seriousness and sobriety previously unseen. Trolls in Swatted aren’t fabled figures, racist bigots and incels confined to 4Chan, they are real, and they are dangerous, and this film might well be the first steps towards exposing the reality of the threat they pose.