California Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed a controversial bill into law requiring social media corporations to be more transparent, setting up a possible legal fight over whether such restrictions violate free speech safeguards.
A.B. 587 compels digital businesses to produce semiannual reports with the state attorney general outlining their content moderation practices for hate speech, misinformation, and extremism. The bill, which Newsom signed on Tuesday, was filed in the aftermath of the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the United States Capitol, as concern increased over digital companies’ involvement in inciting extremism and violence.
The new law forces social media companies to augment their terms of service with extra information. The term “terms of service” refers to a policy or set of regulations issued by a social media firm that outlines, at the very least, the user behavior and activities that are allowed on the social media company’s internet-based service.
The Attorney General is required by law to make all terms of service reports filed in accordance with those laws accessible to the public in a searchable repository on its official internet website.
“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. “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.”
“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,” said Assemblymember Gabriel. “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.”
The new law is the latest in a series of initiatives by state politicians to impose regulations on social media businesses. The California Age-Appropriate Design Code Act, enacted by the state senate last week, would oblige social media businesses to consider the physical and emotional health of children who use their platforms.
Several Big Tech corporations and tech sector trade organizations have filed lawsuits in Texas and Florida to prevent similar social media regulating measures from being implemented in those states.
Legal experts have also expressed concerns about the bill, citing the First Amendment and free speech as major concerns.