In a sad bit of news to start the new year, it would appear that a teenager in Fairfield Township, Ohio, was taken into custody yesterday for falsely claiming that he would commit suicide if a Blizzard
support representative did not give in to his request. The young man, who remains nameless due to being underage, was arrested for "inducing panic" which carries a first-degree misdemeanor charge according to the Middletown Journal
The young man was chatting with a Blizzard rep and made the statement that he was "suicidal and that the game was the only thing that he had to live for." Whether or not this was World of Warcraft
or a Battle.net
account was not disclosed, but even still, it has raised the question in a few circles if Blizzard was beyond the bounds in bringing the police into this situation - or why the police might arrest someone for it.
Personally, based on my previous experience in technical support for a large multinational Internet company, these types of threats are sadly more commonplace than the average person may realize
. When someone's primary method of connecting socially with others is removed - via internet, basic telephony, or networked gaming - you will see a scattered handful who claim that their life is no longer worth living, and then threaten suicide if they aren't helped. Admittedly, the grand majority are falsehoods intended to sway the representative into feeling bad and perhaps caving into the user's unreasonable expectations of service. The problem is that if if the representative doesn't treat every single threat as credible, they open their employer up to liability. Between liability and frequency, most large companies have strict policies on the books to deal with just such situations.
As a case in point at my previously mentioned employer; when we received any admission like that from a customer, we had a series of steps to follow. At the basic level, reps would hit a literal "panic button" twice; the first to screenshot the chat or start a recording which was archived immediately to a secure server; the second activated a flag on the primary control desk where supervisors monitored everything. From there supervisors would either jack in on the call in question to monitor and/or take over if the rep was too flustered, or would supervise the chat from their own screen/walk to the person's terminal and take over if needed. Meanwhile, the acting floor manager would have already pulled up the account information and be looking up the nearby police to send a squad car out and check on the person who had made the threat.
In many cases that I personally dealt with, this resulted in one of two things occurring to the person who made the suicide threat to us. Either the person was found to be a credible threat to their own safety and would be placed under brief protective custody for psychiatric observation, or they were cited and/or arrested on a misdemeanor charge for essentially causing the police to follow up on a false claim and wasting taxpayer dollars. In the first case, the person in trouble was able to get the help they need, and in the second, they were essentially made to pay the tab for their folly.
That said, while more common than you'd realize, these threats are never an easy thing for a representative - or manager - to deal with. You never know if the person is serious, or if they are simply faking it - and who would want to take that chance? In all, I have to applaud the Blizzard rep for following a wise course of action, Blizzard for making sure the policies are in place, and the Fairfield police for ensuring the young man's safety even though his claim turned out to be false. We're also glad to hear that it wasn't a serious threat, and hope that the young man has learned something valuable about making these types of idle threats - even if it is 'just on the Internet.'