A social media transparency bill to publicly disclose their content moderation policies regarding hate speech, disinformation, extremism, harassment, and foreign political interference was signed by Governor Gavin Newsom into law on Tuesday.
Assembly Bill 587, authored by Assemblyman Jesse Gabriel (D-Woodland Hills), would require social media companies such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, to post terms of service that specifies the user behavior and activities that are permitted on the platform and what user behavior and activities that may be acted upon or disciplined. Starting in 2024, AB 587 would also require social media companies to submit current terms of service, specified categories of content and what policies the social media company has for that platform to address that content, and data related to violations of the terms of service for each platform to the Attorney General every year.
Specifically, the semi-annual reports would publicly disclose their content moderation policies regarding hate speech, disinformation, extremism, harassment, and foreign political interference, as well as key metrics and data regarding how and when they enforce those policies. If social media companies violate any of those provisions, then civil penalties, fines or Attorney General/city attorney action would be given.
Assemblyman Gabriel introduced the bill last year to help combat hate speech, disinformation, and other detrimental or dangerous usage and show what exactly those boundaries are in each site. In addition, Gabriel wanted to show insight into how social media companies are moderating public discourse and enable consumers and policymakers to more easily determine whether platforms are removing extreme and dangerous content, or instead amplifying it.
“Californians are becoming increasingly alarmed about the role of social media in promoting hate, disinformation, conspiracy theories, and extreme political polarization,” Assemblyman Gabriel said last year. “It’s long past time for these companies to provide real transparency into their content moderation practices. The public and policymakers deserve to know when and how social media companies are amplifying certain voices and silencing others. This is an important first step in a broader effort to protect our democracy and better regulate social media platforms.”
While initially popular in both houses last year, AB 587 faced stiff opposition from Senate and Assembly Republicans, many who saw the bill as unnecessary and may reveal guarded metrics and other factors that could negatively affect them.
“The bill went from bipartisan to yet another dividing bill quickly as it became more apparent what the bill would actually be doing,” said Silver Lake-based social media consultant Blaine Michaels to the Globe on Wednesday. “Companies will be significantly hurt if they don’t show what actions they have been taking to remove things that can be seen as disinformation or hateful. It’s still a game changer, but many lawmakers feel like the bill is one-sided and politically charged, as well as too vague on what punishments would be. But it really gained steam this year.”
Following a year on hiatus, AB 587 returned to committees earlier this year, where it was ultimately passed based strongly on party lines. In August, the Senate passed the final version 33-3 with 4 not voting, while the Assembly passed it 66-0 with 14 not voting. The bill then went to the Governor where it was ultimately signed on Tuesday.
AB 587 signed into law
“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,” said Governor Newsom 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. I thank Assemblymember Gabriel for championing this important measure to protect Californians from hate, harassment and lies spread online.”
Assemblyman Gabriel added, “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. 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. I am grateful to Governor Newsom for signing this bill and for his leadership in protecting kids and vulnerable communities online.”
However, AB 587 may face some more challenges before the law officially kicks in in 16 months, with legal challenges and questions by social media companies on what exactly reports should entail needing to be worked out in the meantime.
“We’ll probably see some lawsuits and fights over what exactly will be given,” added Michaels. “Big companies, especially tech companies, never go down without a fight. They have teams of lawyers for a reason.”
Unless it is blocked or severely challenged, AB 587 is expected to come into law for social media companies beginning in January 2024.
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