SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Social media companies would have to make public their policies for removing problem content and give detailed accounts of how and when they remove it, under a proposal being considered by California legislators who blame online chatter for encouraging violence and undermining democracy.
The bipartisan measure stalled last year over free speech concerns, but Democratic Assemblyman Jesse Gabriel said Tuesday he hopes to revive his bill by adding amendments he said will make it clear that lawmakers don’t intend to censor or regulate content.
But his bill would require companies to say how they regulate their own content under their social media terms of service.
“We think we’ve found a way to thread that needle,” Gabriel said during a news conference promoting what he said is first-of-its-kind legislation. “We’re not telling you what to do — but tell policymakers and tell the public what you are doing.”
“There’s nothing in this bill that requires companies to censor speech,” he added. “There’s nothing that requires them to silence certain voices or to amplify other content. It simply requires them to be honest and transparent about when they are amplifying certain voices and when they are silencing others.”
The digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit promoting free expression online, was among those opposing the bill on free speech grounds. But the group said it can’t say if Gabriel addressed those concerns until he amends his bill.
The proposal sailed through the state Assembly more than a year ago on a 64-1 vote, then ground to a halt in the Senate Judiciary Committee. It faces a crucial hearing in that committee next week, days before its deadline for moving bills to the full Senate.
The California Chamber of Commerce opposed the bill along with trade groups including the Consumer Technology Association, Internet Association, Internet Coalition, Netchoice and TechNet.
The bill requires such complete disclosure that it would provide “bad actors with roadmaps to get around our protections,” a coalition of the opponents told lawmakers. Its requirement of detailed quarterly reports to the state attorney general is “unworkable and unreasonable,” even with proposed amendments, the coalition said.
And the enforcement allowed under the bill is “onerous and problematic,” subjecting companies to possible civil penalties and investigation over the filing of a report. The potential for lawsuits would be counterproductive, the groups said, and could “suppress ongoing efforts to protect users from harmful content online.”