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A Prank Call (also known as a Crank Call) is a prank and form of trolling where an individual calls or answers to a victim and attempts to humiliate the target for the prankster’s satisfaction, and occasionally in front of the public. Though pranks calls have already been in existence long before the introduction of the internet, the fad has evolved and adapted into the new medium, allowing the pranks to be shared over the internet through websites like YouTube. Prank Calls are now also used as a method of coordinated raids to harass individuals for humor or out of a sense for justice.
While the origin of Prank Calls has been traced back to sometime in the late 1970’s, the prominence of Prank Calls on the internet began in 1995 when American citizen Michael Biggins (under the alias Blackout) began streaming his prank calls live on the internet, and allowed viewers to give input on his pranks. Since starting the website blackout.com, Biggins has continued to post prank calls to this day for the satisfaction of his viewers.
Two years after blackout.com’s inception, another Prank Call website, prankcallradio.net an online radio station began broadcasting prank calls. Like blackout.com, parnkcallradio.net is still active today and has archived over 185 000 prank calls and broadcast them online, making them the largest website to do so.
Variants of Prank Calls
The traditional method of prank calling consists of a sole or group of individuals calling an unsuspecting victim and inquiring them of some sort of topic or subject. At this point, the prank caller can employ the use of gag names, jokes or nonsense to trick, fool, and ultimately humiliate their targets. Often times, the caller will assume a false alias or that of a celebrity to aid them in the prank. With the introduction of caller ID, this method of prank calling is much more complicated and difficult to succeed. Nowadays, Prank Callers will usually use this method on local businesses and call-in radio or television shows.
Prank Calling as the Receiving End
Sometimes, the Prank Caller will receive and answer a call instead and will employ similar methods to toy with the victim. This method is usually used to ward off telemarketers, scammers, or any other unwanted callers. Typically, receiving end Prank Callers will try to prolong the call or use absurdity to make it as awkward for the victim as possible.
Like traditional Prank Calling, Prank Callers will typically find and call victims to fool and mess with. The only difference being that they use a tool known as a soundboard, which will contain pre-recorded dialogue of fictional characters and/or celebrities, usually ripped off from a movie, television show or some other form of media. This can potentially limit the extent of what the prank caller can do before the victim realizes the true nature of the call.
With the introduction of the internet, organized raids on a particular target became a popular method of trolling individuals. This method can be employed as a method of making a political statement or making the victim frustrated. This method of prank calling is typically used on radio or television shows where there is a call segment where viewers can voice their opinions. Unlike the above methods of prank calls, individual prank calls part of the raid are usually short and blatantly intended to infuriate the victim. Methods like Bel-Air’ing and Battletoads inquires are often employed.
This method of Prank Calling is especially used by 4Chan sub-forum /b/, as noted by raids on Tom Green LIVE! and True Capitalist Radio.
Negative Impacts of Prank Calling
Sometimes Prank Calling can lead to negative consequences. In some cases, the Prank Caller can begin to harass the victim and drive them to emotional distress, crossing the line from an innocent prank to a form of bullying.
Prank calls that are often used as a petty act of revenge against targets, sometimes employing the use of SWATing, an act where the caller alerts police to a false emergency at the victim’s residency or present location (usually obtained from doxxing) severe enough to deploy SWAT teams. This often risks physical harm of the victim, and possibly death. As such, lawmakers have been considering stricter laws against such acts. Recently, Swatting has been used often against celebrities, such as Tom Cruise and Simon Cowell.
Sometimes prank calls will occasionally go wrong and reveal private and personal information, exposing the public to the victim’s infidelities or actions of questionable nature, such as the example above, where a husband had a radio host pretend to be a Human Resources manager and prank call his wife to inform her of a (false) incident where the husband engaged in sexual relations with a staff member. Outraged, the wife revealed a true account of engaging in an extramarital affairs with the husband’s brother as the husband was listening to her reaction.
Some victims of Prank Calls can be humiliated to the point of suicide. A notable example of this was the suicide Jacintha Saldanha, one of the victims of a prank conducted by radio hosts Michael Christian and Mel Greig of Australian radio station 2Day FM, who were posing as members of the British Royal Family, which had gained international attention. Saldanha, who had previous instances of attempting suicide, became depressed and being humiliated from her role in the prank call and hung herself as a result. Shortly after, Christian and Greig were subject to public outlash for their prank call and criticized for the ethics of the prank, as well as mention of previous instances where they and the station may have crossed the line.
The Gaurdian – Swatting: a new kind of prank being played on celebrities / Posted on 12-21-2013
Daily Mirror – Kate Middleton prank call tragedy: Nurse found dead after hoax ‘left suicide note for family’ / Posted on 12-11-2012
Daily Mirror – Kate Middleton prank call: Royal hoax nurse Jacintha Saldanha ‘attempted suicide twice before’ / Posted on 12-24-2012
news.com.au – Controversy follows Austereo as outbursts and prank call dramas plague its stations / Posted on 1-17-13
Federal Bureau of Investigation – Don’t Make the Call: The New Phenomenon of ‘Swatting’ / Posted on 2-4-2008