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After Two-Year Fight, State Legislature Approves Major Social Media Transparency Bill

Assembly Bill (AB) 587 Would Address Online Hate and Disinformation, Require Transparency and Accountability from Big Tech

For immediate release:

SACRAMENTO, CA — Today, the California State Legislature approved a bill authored by Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel (D - Woodland Hills) to bring much-needed transparency and accountability to the role of social media in amplifying extreme and dangerous content and driving severe political polarization. If signed, AB 587, a first-of-its-kind measure, will require social media platforms to publicly disclose their policies regarding online hate, disinformation, extremism, and harassment, as well as key metrics and data regarding the enforcement of those policies.

“Californians are becoming increasingly alarmed about the role of social media in promoting hate, disinformation, conspiracy theories, and extreme political polarization,” said Assemblymember Gabriel. “It’s long past time for tech companies to provide real transparency into how they are shaping our public discourse. The public and policymakers deserve to know when social media companies are amplifying certain voices and silencing others. This is an important step in a broader effort to protect our vulnerable communities and hold Big Tech accountable.”

Earlier today, Assemblymember Gabriel hosted a press conference with Assemblymember Buffy Wicks (D - Oakland) and Assemblymember Jordan Cunningham (R - San Luis Obispo), as well as civil rights and youth advocates, to urge the California State Legislature and Governor Newsom to enact AB 587, as well as AB 2273, the California Age Appropriate Design Code. Together, these bills would mark a major step forward in efforts to regulate Big Tech and address harms from social media.

Numerous studies have linked hate-motivated violence, mass shootings, and online activity. Numerous mass shooters in recent years have utilized social media to engage in hateful activity and were often radicalized online. A recent bulletin by the Department of Homeland Security has warned the public of extremist, copycat behavior promulgated in online forums following the Uvalde shooting.

ADL, a key supporter of AB 587, recently rolled out a new nationwide report on the state of online hate and harassment in the U.S. Key findings include: Asian Americans reporting a dramatic increase in harassment, paralleling the rise in anti-Asian hate incidents offline; LGBTQ+ individuals experiencing harassment at the highest levels among all respondents; and nearly half of youth ages 13-17 reporting experiencing some type of online harassment.

Studies have also confirmed that social media has played a major role in spreading public health disinformation. One study found that 12 people and their associated organizations were responsible for 65% of vaccine misinformation on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. This misinformation has been directly linked to COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy and refusal.

Despite widespread concerns, efforts by social media companies to self-police have been widely criticized as grossly inadequate. As disclosed by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen and other sources, social media platforms will recommend harmful, divisive, or false content even where a user is not looking for it. Facebook, for example, has evidence that its algorithms encourage polarization and “exploit the human brain’s attraction to divisiveness,” but the company has declined to implement proposed solutions to address these concerns.

AB 587 would address this troubling lack of transparency by requiring platforms to file reports disclosing their corporate policies on hate speech, disinformation, extremism, harassment, and foreign political interference, as well as their efforts to enforce those policies. The measure also would require disclosure of key metrics and data regarding such enforcement.

The bill now moves to the Governor’s desk, where it must be acted on by September 30th.