California kicks bots off of social media

by Steve Blum • , , ,

You won’t be able to use an anonymous bot to tweet or boost Twitter profiles, or post items on Facebook in California, beginning next year. Or use a bot that pretends to be a person to try to sell something – including a candidate for office – on high traffic websites.

California governor Jerry Brown signed senate bill 1001 into law. Authored by senator Bob Hertzberg, it’s particularly intended to stop automated social media posts that inject comments – fake or otherwise – into political debates.

It only applies to websites that attract at least 10 million unique, U.S. visitors per month. There are a couple of hundred websites that meet that qualification, according to Quantcast.com. The list includes big, California-based platforms, like Google, Youtube, Facebook, Apple and Netflix. But as written, it also applies to out-of-state giants, like Amazon and the New York Times.

SB 1001 makes it…

Unlawful for any person to bot to communicate or interact with another person in California online, with the intent to mislead the other person about its artificial identity for the purpose of knowingly deceiving the person about the content of the communication in order to incentivize a purchase or sale of goods or services in a commercial transaction or to influence a vote in an election.

Using a bot would still be legal, so long as it’s identified as such and the disclosure is “clear, conspicuous, and reasonably designed to inform persons with whom the bot communicates or interacts that it is a bot”.

Online platforms, web hosts and Internet service providers won’t have to do any policing. SB 1001 specifically doesn’t apply to them.

A “bot” is defined as “an automated online account where all or substantially all of the actions or posts of that account are not the result of a person”. It doesn’t appear to apply to customer service bots that websites use to communicate with visitors, but there’s enough wiggle room that the courts will have to decide where to draw the line. That’ll be after the law survives the inevitable challenges on First Amendment and federal preemption grounds.