California now features a first-in-the-nation law requiring social media companies to publicly post their policies regarding hate speech, disinformation, harassment and extremism on their platforms, and report data on their enforcement of the policies.
Social media companies through their Internet Coalition and other trade associations vigorously opposed the law authorized through AB 587. Court challenges are being considered, trade groups said.
Gov, Gavin Newsom signed the social media transparency measure sponsored by Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel (D-Woodland Hills) saying, “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.
In a written statement, Newsom added: “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.”
The new law requires social media companies post a terms of service notices specifying processes used to identify hate speech and disinformation, potential actions against those accused of violating policies and contact information users can follow up on with policy questions.
Social media companies also are required to drill down on the flagged content providing public information on types and numbers of violations. A semi-annual terms of service report must be submitted to the California Attorney General beginning with July 2023. Civil penalties for non-compliance start at up to $15,000 a day.
Facebook, Twitter and Google, representatives contacted by Epoch Times did not immediately respond to questions about the new law. However, Facebook maintains a transparency center through which it posts a quarterly community standards enforcement report, the latest of which was posted in August.
Chamber of Progress, an industry coalition that includes Facebook parent company Meta and Google, said last month it was “absolutely” looking at potential court challenges, saying such mandates raise First Amendment issues.
“It’s like requiring a bookstore to report to the government which books it carries, or requiring the New York Times to explain which stories it publishes,” said Adam Kovacevich, the coalition’s CEO.
Florida and Texas also have passed laws pertaining to the way social media platforms exercise speech policies. However, those laws sought to specify what social media companies could do in that regard.
Tech groups sue
Tech industry groups, including CCIA and NetChoice, another trade group whose members include Google, Meta and TikTok, have sued to block social media laws in Florida and Texas that also sought to regulate how social media companies police content in response to allegations that tech companies are silencing conservatives.
Earlier this year, tech industry trade groups took their battle to the Supreme Court, which temporarily blocked the Texas law.
The U.S. Court of Appeals Eleventh Circuit recently largely upheld a preliminary injunction ruling Florida’s Senate Bill 7072 likely unconstitutional, preventing the law from taking effect, according to the Congressional Research Service.
AB 587 was first introduced in 2021 following the January 6th attack on the United States Capitol, according to Gabriel, the bill sponsor, but stalled following fierce opposition from major social media companies and their trade associations. The bill ultimately secured bipartisan support and passed the Legislature after an intense grassroots lobbying effort by the more than 80 civil rights and civic organizations that supported the measure.
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. “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 and addressing hate speech, disinformation, and dangerous conspiracy theories.”
Backing the bill
The California bill was backed by major civil rights groups, including the Anti-Defamation League, which ran a campaign supporting the legislation’s passage called “Stop Hiding Hate.”
“Today is a victory for internet safety advocates from across not only California, but the nation,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a key supporter of AB 587. “From the beginning, ADL has been insistent that the problem of online hate is too severe, and the consequences are too grave to sit by and do nothing.
California’s law may be the first, but not the last state law pertaining to social media transparency. Newsom’s signature, according to analysts, is a sign of the bigger role states are trying to play in regulating the tech industry in the absence of action by Congress, analysts said.
In an analysis shared with The Washington Post in July, the industry group Computer & Communications Industry Association identified more than 100 bills in state legislatures across the country aimed at regulating social media content moderation policies. Many state legislatures have adjourned for the year, so tech lobbyists are bracing for more activity in 2023.
Eric Goldman, a professor at Santa Clara University School of Law, in Silicon Valley, wrote in a recent blog post that A.B. 587 “has censorial consequences.”
“Among other problems,” Goldman said, “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.
“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,” Goldman said.