A “fake news” ban in California, a proposed law that would make it illegal to share a “false” story, has run into headwinds.
A.B. 1104 was scheduled to be heard in a legislative committee this week, but at the last minute it was pulled from the agenda.
Word of the change in plans came from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which said, “Memo to California Assemblyman Ed Chau: you can’t fight fake news with a bad law.”
The organization said the proposal is “a censorship bill so obviously unconstitutional, we had to double check that it was real.”
The actual document reads: “18320.5. It is unlawful for a person to knowingly and willingly make, publish or circulate on an Internet Web site, or cause to be made, published, or circulated in any writing posted on an Internet Web site, a false or deceptive statement designed to influence the vote on either of the following:
“(a) Any issue submitted to voters at an election.
“(b) Any candidate for election to public office.”
Explained EFF, “In other words, it would be illegal to be wrong on the Internet if it could impact an election. The bill is unconstitutional under U.S. Supreme Court case law (see our opposition letter for more information on that), and likely to draw immediate and costly lawsuits if it is signed into law.”
But the organization explained that “no law and certainly not A.B. 1104,” will solve the problem of “fake news” that “many believe plagued the 2016 election.
“American political speech dating back as far as the John Adams-Thomas Jefferson rivalry has involved unfair smears, half and stretched truths, and even outright lies,” the group said.
The organization issued a warning about the idea: “This bill will fuel a chaotic free-for-all of mudslinging with candidates and others being accused of crimes at the slightest hint of hyperbole, exaggeration, poetic license, or common error. While those accusations may not ultimately hold up, politically motivated prosecutions – or the threat of such – may harm democracy more than if the issue had just been left alone.
“Furthermore, A.B. 1104 makes no exception for satire and parody, leaving The Onion and Saturday Night Live open to accusations of illegal content. Nor does it exempt news organizations who quote deceptive statements made by politicians in their online reporting – even if their reporting is meant to debunk those claims. And what of everyday citizens who are duped by misleading materials: if 1,000 Californians retweet an incorrect statement by a presidential candidate, have they all broken the law?”
A report at HeatStreet said, “The text of the bill implicates anyone who writes, publishes or even shares news stories they know could be false, if those news stories later have an impact on an election.”
The report explained there is one exemption: “The bill does say that you have to ‘knowingly and willfully’ make reference to a set of ‘alternative facts,’ but it doesn’t give details on who would determine a story is ‘fake news’ or, for that matter, what a ‘fake news’ story even is.”
But the danger is large:
“Based on the approach taken in the wake of the 2016 campaign, ‘fake news’ seems to mean a host of different things, from wrong-headed political opinions, to stories that look fishy and are later proven to be false or misleading. Based on this law, it also seems to include any story posted on social media that appears to be politically biased, or comes from any source with an editorial slant,” the report said.