Governor Brown vetoes a social media distraction

21 September 2018 by Steve Blum
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No, not that one.

Governor Jerry Brown refused to bite on a bit of legislative sausage yesterday. He vetoed senate bill 1424, which would have set up a social media research group in the California attorney general’s office, dedicated to the study of false information.

As originally envisioned by senator Richard Pan (D – Sacramento), SB 1424 would have required social media platforms to flag any false news posted by users. Exactly how that was supposed to happen was, to say the least, unclear. But since its life expectancy following the inevitable, instant First Amendment challenge was shorter than a Donald Trump tweet, we never would have found out.

Pan apparently got the news flash, but didn’t read it too closely. His next try was to cut SB 1424 down to just requiring social media sites to post editorial policies and “to state what policies and practices the factcheckers use to determine whether news stories are accurate and what the site does with the content that the factcheckers determine is not accurate”. Better – it might have last long enough to make half of Silicon Valley spit its morning Soylent – but it still went too far.

So the next step was to form a committee. But that costs money. So SB 1424 was amended to require the attorney general to bang a tin cup long enough to get private money to pay for it. Since it didn’t do anything and didn’t cost anything, it was the perfect piece of Californian legislation.

It was approved by a comfortable margin in the final week of the legislative session and sent to the governor. Who chucked it in the capitol compost pile…

This bill directs the Attorney General to establish an advisory group to study the problem of the spread of false information through Internet-based social media platforms.

As evidenced by the numerous studies by academic and policy groups on the spread of false information, the creation of a statutory advisory group to examine this issue is not necessary.

Brown still has a stack of bills to approve or veto in the next week, including net neutrality legislation. The deadline is a week from Sunday.