New Law Will Require Social Media Companies to Pull Back the Curtain and Publicly Disclose Content Moderation Policies, Enable Greater Public Accountability for Social Media Platforms that Promote Hate Speech, Disinformation, and Conspiracy Theories
- Dana Alpert
- Legislative/Communications Assistant
SACRAMENTO, CA — Today, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law a first-of-its-kind measure that will provide much greater transparency into the role of social media platforms in amplifying extreme and dangerous content and promoting political polarization.
Authored by Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel (D - Woodland Hills), Assembly Bill (AB) 587 will require social media platforms to file semi-annual reports with the California Attorney General publicly disclosing their content moderation policies regarding hate speech, disinformation, extremism, harassment, and foreign political interference, as well as key metrics and data regarding how and when they enforce those policies. In doing so, the new law will pull back the curtain to provide new insight into how social media companies are moderating public discourse in the U.S. and around the globe. AB 587 also will enable consumers and policymakers to more easily determine whether platforms are removing extreme and dangerous content, or instead amplifying it in pursuit of greater user engagement and profitability.
“Social media has created incredible opportunities, but also real and proximate threats to our kids, to vulnerable communities, and to American democracy as we know it,” said Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel. “This new law will finally pull back the curtain and require tech companies to provide meaningful transparency into how they are shaping our public discourse and addressing hate speech, disinformation, and dangerous conspiracy theories. I am grateful to Governor Newsom for signing this bill and for his leadership in protecting kids and vulnerable communities online.”
“California will not stand by as social media is weaponized to spread hate and disinformation that threaten our communities and foundational values as a country,” said Governor Gavin Newsom. “Californians deserve to know how these platforms are impacting our public discourse, and this action brings much-needed transparency and accountability to the policies that shape the social media content we consume every day. I thank Assemblymember Gabriel for championing this important measure to protect Californians from hate, harassment, and lies spread online.”
AB 587 was first introduced in 2021 following the January 6th attack on the United States Capitol, but stalled following fierce opposition from major social media companies and their trade associations. The bill ultimately secured bipartisan support and passed the Legislature after an intense grassroots lobbying effort by the more than 80 civil rights and civic organizations that supported the measure.
With the signing of AB 587, California now leads the world with the most stringent transparency measures for Big Tech, placing the state at the forefront of regulating a number of notable California companies, including Facebook and Instagram. Commenting on this phenomenon, Assemblymember Gabriel, who chairs the Assembly Committee on Privacy and Consumer Protection, noted, “In California, we’re immensely proud of our innovation economy, but we also believe that we have a special obligation and a special opportunity to hold these companies accountable. Particularly with the lack of progress at the national level, we believe California must step up and lead.”
“Today is a victory for internet safety advocates from across not only California, but the nation,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a key supporter of AB 587. “From the beginning, ADL has been insistent that the problem of online hate is too severe, and the consequences are too grave to sit by and do nothing. Governor Newsom has shown tremendous leadership by signing AB 587. This bill will have national implications to ensure that vulnerable communities are protected from the harms we see online. We thank Assemblymember Gabriel for his incredible unwavering leadership in ensuring a safer and more transparent internet.”
"A key step in tackling anti-AAPI hate is to make our online communities safer,” said Linda Ng, National President of OCA-Asian Pacific American Advocates. “Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have been the targets of racial discrimination and scapegoating in digital spaces, which have perpetuated the rise in attacks on our community in the past two years. AB 587 is a fundamental step in the right direction for stopping this violence and we applaud Assemblymember Gabriel and Governor Newsom for their leadership on this issue.”
Background on AB 587
Numerous studies have linked hate-motivated violence, mass shootings, and online activity. A recent bulletin by the Department of Homeland Security warned the public of extremist, copycat behavior promulgated in online forums following the Uvalde shooting.
ADL 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 others, 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.