Nearly half of American adults experience online harassment and nearly one third experience severe harassment, but society still struggles with understanding the deep impact of online hate. Too often, we see “online hate” contrasted with “real world violence.” Trust us: to victims and targets of swatting, doxing, cyberstalking, and cyberharassment, the abuse they experience online is very real.
We know that digital abuse pushes targets offline and silences valuable voices. One year ago, ADL launched Backspace Hate, an initiative supporting victims and targets of online hate and harassment by raising awareness and passing legislation to better hold perpetrators accountable for their harmful actions online. We’re energized by the progress we’ve made but know there is a lot more to do.
In Backspace Hate’s first year, our advocacy led to the passage of Washington’s anti-swatting law and the introduction of anti-swatting and anti-cyberharassment bills in California, Connecticut, Missouri and Maryland. Swatting is the act of falsely reporting an emergency to someone’s home with the goal of having a police unit (usually a SWAT team) deployed to a dwelling.
Currently, in the eyes of the law, swatting is considered parallel to a prank call. State by state and at the federal level, we are committed to increasing protections for targets of swatting--who are often targeted because of their identity.
In Backspace Hate’s second year, in addition to advocating for anti-swatting legislation, we are working with lawmakers to introduce legislation aimed at curbing doxing, the act of putting someone’s personal information online with the intent that a crime be committed against them.
Beyond legislative work, core to Backspace Hate’s mission is educating responders and raising awareness about the prevalence and pervasive nature of online harassment. In this capacity, ADL has focused on hosting grassroots events, educating law enforcement, providing CLEs (continuing legal education) for attorneys, and developing programming for leaders in higher education.
This past September, cyberharassment target and activist Taylor Dumpson testified before members of the House Energy and Commerce committee about the white-supremacist-led hate crimes she experienced online and on the ground after she was election the first Black, female student body president of American University. On day one in office, bananas hung from nooses across campus. By day four, threats, hate speech and harassment targeting her moved online: in all facets of her digital life.
Her testimony highlighted ADL’s advocacy around Backspace Hate and urged lawmakers to pass anti-swatting and anti-doxing laws at the federal level. In November, Tanya Gersh, another target of severe and overtly antisemitic online doxing and cyberstalking, will speak at ADL’s Summit on Antisemitism and Hate about the troll storm, doxing and cyberstalking she experienced at the hands of neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin and his army of followers.
And as our digital spaces evolve, so does our work fighting hate. ADL is constantly tracking new forms of online harassment, like Zoombombing, so we can share facts and advocate for solutions that protect targets. Against the backdrop of COVID-19, so many of us have shifted to virtual-first work, education, recreation, and worship. Zoom weddings are real, online education is real, virtual congressional hearings are real. Through Backspace Hate, we’re developing real solutions to real problems around online hate.
Today, turning off phones or getting offline when targeted by perpetrators of online harassment isn’t an option. So, one year later, we’re still backspacing hate to make room for good.
For more information: