Tech executives including Instagram head Adam Mosseri are being targeted by hoaxes in which people call the police about false crimes, according to a Thursday report by The New York Times. In November, for instance, police in San Francisco and New York were reportedly called to fake hostage situations at Mosseri's homes.
Mosseri, the Times says, is just one of several tech executives who've been the target of these "swatting" incidents, where an anonymous caller lies about a violent crime occurring inside a home, prompting police SWAT teams or other armed units to respond. These incidents, which have been associated with the gaming and hacking communities and can be deadly, are reportedly becoming more frequent in areas with many tech companies and executives, such as the San Francisco Bay Area and Seattle.
It's not clear exactly how many of these swatting situations there have been, since there isn't a central place that such information is stored, the Times reports. But people in the industry reportedly say it's not surprising tech executives are being targeted in this way, given that online discourse has become more aggressive. Forums throughout the web identify everyone from high-ranking executives to their extended families as potential victims, sharing information such as their cell phone numbers and addresses, according to the Times.
Local police departments and security officials at
reportedly said swattings at the company have gone up significantly. This comes as the social media giant has been more aggressively tackling fake accounts and threatening language that violates its rules. Facebook didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
One online forum reportedly lists around two dozen Facebook employees who are potential targets. Some participants in the forum said they'd been banned from Facebook or Instagram and that it was OK to target employees there because they "think they are god," the Times reports. Facebook CEO
home has reportedly been permanently flagged as high risk.
Some communities are coming up with solutions. In Seattle, people who feel they may be the target of swatting can list their personal and family information in a police registry, according to the Times. That way, when an emergency call about a situation comes in, police can look to see if that home is in the registry. If it is, they'll call that home to see if they're able to contact someone inside and will check in with neighbors to see if they can confirm reports of a violent situation. The Times says no other police departments it contacted had a similar registry.
Companies including Facebook, Google and Twitter have reportedly had conversations in recent months with employees who might be at risk of these incidents. They've advised those employees not to publicly share their locations or list information on their families, the Times says. They've also reportedly privately told local police when high-profile executives are at risk. Google didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. Twitter declined to comment.
Originally published Jan. 23, 3:37 p.m. PT.
Updates, 3:46 p.m.: Adds more details throughout; 4:12 p.m.: Adds that Twitter declined to comment.