Proposed Legislation Would Make Social Media Extortion a Felony
A proposed bill in the Washington state Senate would make social media extortion a felony, if it passes.
SB (Senate Bill) 5495, introduced by Sen. Hans Ziegler (R-Puyallup) would classify different types of social media extortion and blackmail when it comes to reviews and defaming a business.
Ziegler cited an example of the Italian restaurant Napoli Italiano last year. The Puyallup business suddenly began receiving cyber attacks and hundreds of bad reviews, which dropped their social media 'score' and ratings, affecting business. The reviews were found to all have been generated from an IP address in Romania in Europe, but with different names and spoofed email addresses. Then, they were contacted by the suspect, who said they would stop drowning the web with the defamation if the restaurant would wire $900 to a person in Singapore. They refused to pay.
Instead, the owners took their case to the media. But this gave them little legal recourse. Ziegler realizes if the suspect committing the extortion and defamation is overseas, there's little that can be done. But it would also require social media providers to block and remove such defamation if it's contained in a police report or complaint, and provided it meets the criteria of the bill.
And if the suspect can be located in the U.S., attempts will be made to criminally prosecute them.
The bill would also apply to cases in which an angry customer knowingly and willfully attempts to 'bring down' a company or business by engaging in online defamation far above and beyond being unhappy with service. It would make such behavior a Class "C" felony.
So if the bill passes, the days of a person or people 'ganging up' on a company online with the intent of hurting their business could be on the way out. Ziegler says there's a huge difference between someone posting a negative review, which they have every right to, and dozens (if not hundreds) of 'bad reviews' designed to deliberately extort or hurt a business.
The business would have to file a police report, and present any and all digital evidence to authorities, who would then investigate and determine if it meets the law's criteria.