A 13-year-old boy from southern Germany was investigated by the FBI and local police after he threatened to go on a shooting spree at a California-based video game developer. Police tracked him down using an IP address.
The investigation by the US-based Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was launched against a 13-year-old boy following threats he made online of carrying out a shooting spree at “League of Legends” developer Riot Games, US company.
Employees at the Los Angeles-based company alerted the FBI after they discovered comments made online. The FBI worked with the German police tracing the boy to the south German town of Hassfurt, in Bayern, using only an IP-address.
“The boy had very concretely announced plans for a killing spree” a police spokesman from the southern town of Hassfurt said in a statement on Saturday.
Speaking on how they managed to track down the child they stated, “it wasn’t really very easy as we only had the IP-address.” However, after a short investigation the authorities managed to trace the name and address. An IP address is the unique address attached to each computer.
A bad joke
Following a conversation with the boy and his parents, prosecutors decided to drop the case after it was realized that the boy had made the comments as a joke.
Despite this “his name has been saved in the FBI database which could, for example, lead to a travel ban to the USA” stated the authorities.
This is not the first time that the FBI or other authorities have misinterpreted the severity of comments made online.
It highlights the notorious difficulty in gauging the tone of a written comment, which is further confused by internet culture often having a humour of its own.
In Germany the introduction of a controversial upload filter in 2018 sparked outrage. People feared that the filter would not be able to differentiate between visual internet jokes, known as memes and actual copyright infringement. Memes rely on the recycling of images and are a key tenet of much online content.
However, on it’s website the FBI makes its serious approach to internet humour very clear “hoax threats are not a joke, and they can have devastating consequences.”