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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
News >  WA Government

Social media extortion could become felony crime in Washington

Feb. 20, 2019 Updated Wed., Feb. 20, 2019 at 12:20 p.m.

The logo for Facebook appears on screens March 29, 2018 at the Nasdaq MarketSite in New York’s Times Square. (Richard Drew / AP)
The logo for Facebook appears on screens March 29, 2018 at the Nasdaq MarketSite in New York’s Times Square. (Richard Drew / AP)
By Ryan Blake The Spokesman-Review

Demanding money to remove false information posted about a person or a business on social media could become a felony in Washington.

Under a bill heard Tuesday by a Senate committee, a person who experiences such a threat could have an easier time getting the social media platform to remove it.

Similar to existing extortion laws, the bill would define social media extortion as a threat to obtain money or services from a person in return for removing negative social media posts. Proof of such a demand would be required to file a police report.

“The goal here is not to open the door wide to all businesses that want to have a negative review removed,” Sen. Hans Zieger, R-Puyallup, told the Senate Law and Justice Committee. The goal is to protect them from threats from people trying to make money off of false claims.

The idea for the bill came after Napoli Italiano, a Puyallup restaurant, received a demand for $900 from an IP address in Romania to remove negative reviews on Facebook and Yelp, Zieger said.

Demanding payment beyond a refund “to remedy bad practice” is already against Yelp’s guidelines. Facebook users also have the option to report fake reviews.

The bill would create a presumption that posts demanding money for their removal are untrue. It would also require social media companies to remove the posts within 24 hours of a receiving a copy of the police report.

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