A Victory in the Fight Against Hate: Washington State Protects Targets of Swatting

Hate on social media

April 03, 2020

As our online lives have become even more central to the way we work, communicate and socialize in this unprecedented time, Washington state has shown tremendous leadership in enacting legislation protecting targets and victims of online hate and harassment, which can have serious and potentially fatal consequences. This significant anti-swatting law, signed by Gov. Jay Inslee today, holds accountable individuals who seek to weaponize law enforcement to attack others.

Swatting is the false reporting of an emergency with the goal of having a police unit or emergency response team deployed to a dwelling. It has been increasingly used as a digital harassment tactic and has resulted in injuries and trauma (and even a fatality) to both targets and unintended victims. This new law makes swatting a felony in Washington when it results in someone being injured or killed. The legislation also gives swatting victims and targets the right to sue and allows law enforcement or a city to seek damages.

This victory is a product of ADL’s Backspace Hate initiative to support targets of online harassment. ADL regional leaders and community members have been working in states across the country to pass legislation that holds perpetrators accountable for their actions online, and Washington is just the latest example of our progress.

We’re especially proud of how many community partners joined together to support this bill. The Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, Equal Rights Washington, Gender Justice League, Greater Seattle Business Association, Latino Civic Alliance, Seattle Online Broadcasters Association, Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle and the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs all came together in support of this legislation.

This type of coalition work from an entire community is critical to accomplishing the goals of Backspace Hate, to support victims of online hate and hold perpetrators accountable for their harmful and abusive behavior online. When community groups across the state join together with law enforcement to protect one another, they can have a tremendous impact on legislation, and more broadly, people’s safety and quality of life.

These coalitions have a great ability to effectuate change, and ADL looks forward to more of this work across different states and at the federal level. Our decades of experience working in coalition highlights the fact that we are stronger working together to fight hate for good.

Our hope is that this bill serves as a call for other places to consider and pass similar legislation as an important way to protect communities from online hate. Today, we are seeing extremists, bigots and others promulgating hate both online and offline in this time of crisis.

As swatting and similar tactics become increasingly common, it becomes even more important that we address them swiftly and comprehensively, so that we can guard against the targeting of marginalized communities because of their identities. We thank Governor Inslee and the Washington legislature, particularly Representative Javier Valdez and Senator Jesse Salomon, for their leadership on this issue. Even in these times, our work to protect our communities from online violence is incredibly important.