Zeiger bill to end social media extortion heard in Senate Committee

State Sen. Hans Zeiger’s bill to fight social media extortion was heard today in the Senate Law and Justice Committee.

Under Senate Bill 5495, a person could be found guilty of social media extortion if they commit extortion by means of a threat. The bill would categorize the crime of social media extortion as a class C felony. SB 5495 would also require a social media provider to remove negative social media posts associated with alleged extortion and identified within a copy of a police report.

Zeiger is bringing this bill forward after the Puyallup restaurant Napoli Italiano started receiving bad reviews and web attacks from IP addresses in Romania. After a few days, the restaurant was contacted with a message saying that the bad reviews would stop and be removed if he agreed to wire $900 to an individual in Singapore. If they declined to pay, the bad reviews would continue. Instead of paying, Napoli Italiano took their story to the press, but they had little legal recourse to address the situation.

“This bill creates some legal solutions for businesses or other entities that may find themselves in a blackmail or extortion situation like the restaurant in my district did,” said Zeiger. “Cybercrime is a growing challenge with real impacts on small businesses in our state, and we need thoughtful legal solutions that allow us to tackle cyber extortion head on.”

“Businesses are at the mercy of these criminal groups and social media platforms are not addressing or monitoring this problem,” said Johnny Bristol, marketing consultant for Napoli Italiano. “Businesses and marketing agencies need the cooperation of the social media platforms to mitigate the effect of these malicious attacks. Senator Zeiger’s bill would hold both parties accountable and protect our businesses. As a witness to one of these attacks, I can say this is very badly needed and Washington businesses will benefit from this legislation and be able to thrive without worrying about these harmful social media blackmail attacks!”