Netflix has a new documentary series airing next week — “Web of Make Believe: Death, Lies & the Internet” — in which Yours Truly apparently has a decent amount of screen time. The debut episode explores the far-too-common harassment tactic of “swatting” — wherein fake bomb threats or hostage situations are phoned in to police as part of a scheme to trick them into visiting potentially deadly force on a target’s address.
The producers of the Netflix show said footage from an interview I sat for in early 2020 on swatting and other threats should appear in the first episode. They didn’t specify what additional topics the series would scrutinize, but Netflix’s teaser for the show suggests it concerns cybercrimes that result in deadly, real-world kinetic attacks.
“Conspiracy. Fraud. Violence. Murder,” reads the Netflix short description for the series. “What starts out virtual can get real all too quickly — and when the web is worldwide, so are the consequences.”
Our family has been victimized by multiple swatting attacks over the past decade. Our first swatting, in March 2013, resulted in Fairfax County, Va. police surrounding our home and forcing me into handcuffs at gunpoint. For an excruciating two minutes, I had multiple police officers pointing rifles, shotguns and pistols directly at me.
More recently, our family was subjected to swatting attacks by a neo-Nazi group that targeted journalists, judges and corporate executives. We’ve been fortunate that none of our swatting events ended in physical harm, and that our assailants have all faced justice.
But these dangerous hoaxes can quickly turn deadly: In March 2019, 26-year-old serial swatter Tyler Barriss was sentenced to 20 years in prison for making a phony emergency call to police in late 2017 that resulted in the shooting death of an innocent Kansas resident.
In 2021, an 18-year-old Tennessee man who helped set in motion a fraudulent distress call to police that led to the death of a 60-year-old grandfather in was sentenced to five years in prison.
The first season of the new documentary series will be available on Netflix starting June 15. See you on TV!