ADL Launches Multi-State "Backspace Hate" Advocacy Campaign to Protect Victims of Severe Online Harassment

Bipartisan legislation introduced in Washington and Maryland

New York, NY, January 28, 2020 … Today, ADL (the Anti-Defamation League) announced the launch of “Backspace Hate,” a national initiative to fight the escalating problems of harmful online activities, including cyber harassment, cyber stalking, swatting, and doxing, through updating legislation and raising awareness. As part of this effort, several states are introducing bipartisan bills that address severe online harassment by holding perpetrators accountable for their actions online.

“It’s easier than ever before for individuals to harm their targets online,” said Jonathan A. Greenblatt, ADL CEO. “But in far too many states, common tactics harassers use to harm their targets are not considered criminal. ADL is grateful to the state leaders who are standing with us and working to finally give victims and targets recourse against those who use new digital tools as a weapon to injure others.”

In addition to advocating for specific legislation, ADL is harnessing its resources and expertise by raising awareness among policymakers, law enforcement, and supporters; building coalitions with diverse partners; gathering petition signatures to deliver to legislators; publishing research on these issues and their effects on targets; and providing recommendations for technical solutions.

In Washington state, an anti-swatting bill has just been introduced in both the House and Senate. There have recently been several victims of swatting in the state, where someone falsely reports an emergency at someone’s home with the intent of having a SWAT unit deployed, recklessly disregarding the possibility of causing harm. While swatting originated in the gaming world, more and more, perpetrators are using this as a tool to engage in identity-based online harassment. By taking a lead in introducing this legislation, Washington has the potential to become a model state in protecting targets of online harassment. A Washington State Senate committee hearing on this bill is scheduled for Feb. 3.

In Maryland, an anti-swatting bill is set to be introduced in both the Senate and House, which would prohibit a person from making false statements to law enforcement officers to incite an emergency response. The bill will create specific internet-based provisions, specify when further prosecution is warranted, and allow persons injured to bring a civil course of action. 

“The current laws on the books have not caught up with the reality experienced by too many victims of severe online harassment, and it’s past time for Maryland to change it,” said Maryland State Senator Jeff Waldstreicher.

Maryland State Delegate Emily Shetty added, “Our hope is that the legislation focused on swatting is just the start of a comprehensive effort to make people safer online.”  

Over the course of this year, ADL will support similar bills in several states that strengthen protections for victims of swatting, doxing, and cyber stalking.

A 2019 ADL report found that 37 percent of Americans experienced severe online harassment, including sexual harassment, stalking, physical threats, or sustained harassment. ADL has also found that individuals who were the targets of intense harassment campaigns experienced significant emotional and economic burdens. In response to these trends, over 85 percent of Americans want policymakers to strengthen laws to prevent such acts.

Learn more about Backspace Hate or sign ADL’s petition to lawmakers.

ADL is the world’s leading anti-hate organization. Founded in 1913 in response to an escalating climate of anti-Semitism and bigotry, its timeless mission is to protect the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment for all. Today, ADL continues to fight all forms of hate with the same vigor and passion. A global leader in exposing extremism, delivering anti-bias education, and fighting hate online, ADL is the first call when acts of anti-Semitism occur. ADL’s ultimate goal is a world in which no group or individual suffers from bias, discrimination or hate.