A proposed Californian bill aims to ban “fake news,” making it unlawful for a website to post a “deceptive statement designed to influence the vote” on proposed issues or candidates for public office.
The proposed law, which can be read in full here, states:
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.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a nonprofit organisation that defends civil liberties in the digital world, stated that the bill was “so obviously unconstitutional, we had to double check that it was real.”
The EFF claims that the proposed bill is completely unconstitutional under U.S. Supreme Court case law and would likely draw lawsuits immediately if signed into law. The EFF also states, “No law, and certainly not A.B. 1104,” will remedy the issue of fake news. The EFF picked the bill apart and explained the issues that may arise from it stating,
This bill will fuel a chaotic free-for-all of mudslinging with candidates and others being accused of crimes at the slightest hint of hyberbole, 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?
The EFF has further called for free speech advocates to post to the Twitter feeds of the Californian privacy committee urging them not to pass the bill. At the time of this writing, the EFF reported “A.B. 1104 has been pulled and will not be heard in committee [Tuesday].”