Gavin Newsom signs California’s Social Media Transparency Act

President Joe Biden speaks with California Governor Gavin Newsom upon arrival at Mather Airport on Air Force One Monday, September 13, 2021.

President Joe Biden speaks with California Governor Gavin Newsom upon arrival at Mather Airport on Air Force One Monday, September 13, 2021.
Photo: Evan Vucci (PA)

California Governor Gavin Newsom announcement Tuesday night that he had signed a “first-of-its-kind” bill to “protect Californians from hate and misinformation being spread online.”

AB 587 will require “social media platforms” to be included in their terms of service (TOS) a list of editorial policies defining the types of activities allowed on social networks with respect to those that may result in actions against the user. The law further requires affected companies to outline any actions that can be taken, from deleting a post to suspending an account.

Companies must also provide users with details on how to contact a particular company and file complaints about its policies.

Additionally, the bill includes reporting requirements, which will require companies like Facebook and Twitter to provide “full and detailed descriptions” of any changes to their TOS in the previous quarter. Companies must indicate whether the changes relate to a specific list of issues, including: “hate speech or racism”, “extremism or radicalization”, “disinformation or disinformation”, “harassment” and “foreign political interference”.

And finally, it includes a list of required disclosures, such as: “How automated content moderation systems enforce the social media platform’s terms of service and when those systems involve human review” and “How the company social media responds to user reports of terms of service violations.

California Assemblyman Jesse Gabriel, who introduced AB 587, said the bill would serve to “pull back the curtain and compel tech companies to provide meaningful transparency about how they shape our public discourse, as well as the role of social media in promoting hate speech”. , misinformation, conspiracy theories and other dangerous content.

Not everyone agrees that these measures will be effective, or that they should even be legal requirements. Some requirements are redundant with already common industry practices, experts say.

Eric Goldman, law professor at Santa Clara University — often quoted for his skill on the background Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act — detailed its many problems with the invoiceincluding the very definition of “social media platforms”, which he found untested by the legal system.

“To the extent that the bill prevents the services from making an editorial decision using a policy/practice that has not been announced in advance, the bill would control and distort the editorial decisions of the services,” said said Goldman, who criticized the bill for having too much in common with laws passed by Republicans in Texas and Florida.

Similar terminology to that found in AB 587 – which includes several notable exemptions, such as one for companies that had less than $100 million in revenue last quarter (and under this definition could include “Truth Social” from the former President Trump among an array of other well-known but unprofitable startups) – has been used in “about 20 other pieces of legislation,” Goldman said, but has never been argued in court.

“Every word,” he wrote, “invites litigation.”

Goldman also took issue with the section defining the “terms of use”, calling it a “censal trap”. The problem, he explained, is that secrecy (or at least “ambiguity”) is potentially justified in certain circumstances. Those circumstances, he suggested, could include a company withholding details of the mechanisms behind a specific policy in order to prevent malicious actors from messing with their system; policy interpretations made “on the fly” to mitigate instances involving a user’s security; or policies and information that governments request or legally require to be kept from the public.

Mike Masnik, founder and editor of Techdirt, raised similar complaints“Under 587, websites must now teach peddlers of disinformation how best to manipulate their systems, and can do little to handle them without breaking the law,” he wrote.

The teacher, who blog regularly on legal issues related to the Internet and marketing, sets out many other concerns – some related to the structure of the law and other disclosure requirements – that you can judge for yourself here.

Comments are closed.