Gov. Newsom signs controversial social media bill regulating mean words, extremism, disinformation

A controversial bill requiring social media platforms to post their policies on censoring hate speech, disinformation and extremism has been signed into law by California Governor Gavin Newsom.

California lawmakers say A.B. 587 will protect residents from hate speech and disinformation, but opponents believe the bill will be used to violate First Amendment rights.

“The bill is likely to be struck down as unconstitutional at substantial taxpayer expense. The censorial consequences should trigger the highest level of constitutional scrutiny, but the undue burdens and lack of consumer benefit ensures it won’t survive even lower levels of scrutiny,” Santa Clara University School of Law professor Eric Goldman wrote in a blog post. “As my blog post mentions, there are several other bases for constitutional challenges.”

The bill requires social media companies to disclose the number of flagged items of content, total number of items action was taken against, the number of times actioned items were viewed by users, how many times those items were shared and the number of times actions were appealed by users and reversed.

The bill also requires that social media platforms submit semiannual reports that will be made available for search by the general public.

Introduced by state Rep. Jesse Gabriel (D) and co-authored by state Reps. Buffy Wicks (D) and Jordan Cunningham (R), as well as state Senators Richard Pan (D), Henry Stern (D) and Scott Weiner (D), the bill is the latest in a series of attempts by lawmakers in several states to “implement legislation on social media companies. Last week, the state’s legislature passed the California Age-Appropriate Design Code Act, which will require social media companies to consider the physical and mental health of minors who use their platforms,” The Hill reported.

“Social media has created incredible opportunities, but also real and proximate threats to our kids, to vulnerable communities, and to American democracy as we know it,”  Gabriel said in a statement.  “This new law will finally pull back the curtain and require tech companies to provide meaningful transparency into how they are shaping our public discourse, as well as the role of social media in promoting hate speech, disinformation, conspiracy theories, and other dangerous content. I am grateful to Governor Newsom for signing this bill and for his leadership in protecting kids and vulnerable communities online.”

Goldman disagrees, saying the potential infringement on rights far outweighs the benefits.

“Among other problems, by prioritizing certain content categories, the bill tells social media platforms that they must make special publication decisions in those categories to please the regulators and enforcers who are watching them,” he wrote. “The resulting distortions to the platforms’ editorial decision-making constitutes censorship. Any enforcement actions also will be impermissibly intrusive into the editorial practices of social media platforms, putting regulators in the middle of the editorial process and enabling them to second-guess the platforms’ editorial decisions.”

Newsom does not see the requirements as overly burdensome, even though social media companies will be required to make more than 160 different statistical disclosures, necessitating a custom-built reporting system that will vary state to state as more laws are enacted, Goldman said.

“California will not stand by as social media is weaponized to spread hate and disinformation that threaten our communities and foundational values as a country,” Newsom said in a statement. “Californians deserve to know how these platforms are impacting our public discourse, and this action brings much-needed transparency and accountability to the policies that shape the social media content we consume every day.”

Big Tech companies and social media trade groups have filed lawsuits in Texas and Florida to block similar regulatory laws, The Washington Post reported, and many believe A.B. 587 will be challenged next.


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