Wednesday March 08, 2017

How a Joke Tweet Brought 911 to its Knees

I think most of us have had that experience where something intended as a joke went a little bit too far, and you regretted it. Luckily in my case, this never resulted in taking down the 911 system and potentially facing 12 years in prison. In this case, much like with Rick Rolling, a tweet with a condensed google link was supposedly intended to, when clicked on, pop up a "do you want to call 911" dialogue, making the user panic, and cancel it. Instead it resulted in no dialogue box, making the phone immediately call 911 without confirmation, and when people hung up it would call again, and again until the phone was rebooted. As if this weren't bad enough, people found the tweet funny, and retweeted it, sometimes with different link text, resulting in it being clicked 117,502 times.

If you ask me, whether the story is true, and the dialogue box was intended, or if it was actually intended to behave the way it did, this was a pretty bad idea, but probably not intended to do real harm. I look at it as youthful stupidity, not intent, and I'm torn on the subject of what a fitting punishment is. You want to make sure it isn't too light, so that people don't get the idea that messing with 911 is acceptable. As luck would have it it doesn't appear as if anyone was killed as a result of the prank, but that could have happened. Yet on the other hand, I have personally been involved in pranks in my more youthful and less deliberative days that could easily have gone too far and gotten out of control, and I can't help but feel some sympathy here.

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For over 12 hours in late October, 911 lines across the country were ringing so much that they nearly went down. Nobody knew why this was happening, until Phoenix police discovered that 18-year-old Meetkumar Hitesbhai Desai tweeted a link that caused iPhones to repeatedly dial 911. Now, more details have emerged about how the Twitter prank spiraled out of control.