California is known far and wide for it’s wacky regulations. In fact, just last fall we wrote about SB 1383, a very significant piece of legislation signed into law by Jerry Brown which requires a 40% reduction in methane gas emissions from cow flatulence by 2030 (no, really…you can take a look here: “Here Are Some Of The Ridiculous New State Laws That Will Take Effect January 1st – Happy New Year!“)
But a recent piece of legislation introduced by California Assemblyman Ed Chau (D-Monterey Park), “The California Political Cyberfraud Abatement Act or AB 1104 for short, gives the “cow fart” bill a run for its money in terms of its complete idiocy. The bill, filed Wednesday in the Assembly’s Committee on Privacy and Consumer Affairs, would have effectively made it a crime to be wrong on the Internet.
The text of the bill implicated anyone who writes, publishes or even shares news stories that could be false, if those news stories are later found to have had an impact on an election. From the bill:
This bill would modify the definition of the terms “political cyberfraud” and “political Web site” to include Internet Web sites that urge or appear to urge the support or opposition of candidates for public office. The bill would also make it unlawful for a person to knowingly and willingly make, publish or circulate on a Web site, or cause to be made, published, or circulated in any writing posted on a Web site, a false or deceptive statement designed to influence the vote on any issue submitted to voters at an election or on any candidate for election to public office.
And even though author Ed Chau described AB 1104 as “an important step forward in the fight against ‘fake news’ and deceptive campaign tactics”, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a digital-rights advocacy group, said the bill was “so obviously unconstitutional, we had to double check that it was real.”
Memo to California Assemblymember Ed Chau: you can’t fight fake news with a bad law.
On Tuesday, the California Assembly’s Committee on Privacy and Consumer Affairs, which Chau chairs, will consider A.B. 1104—a censorship bill so obviously unconstitutional, we had to double check that it was real.
This bill will fuel a chaotic free-for-all of mudslinging with candidates and others being accused of crimes at the slightest hint of hyperbole, 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?
At a time when political leaders are promoting “alternative facts” and branding unflattering reporting as “fake news,” we don’t think it’s a good idea to give the government more power to punish speech.
As of right now it looks as if the legislation has been pulled after Chau just cancelled a hearing originally scheduled for Monday. Presumably Chau got a little pushback from mainstream media outlets after they realized his bill would effectively ban them, and their fake “Russian hacking” narratives from California.
Here is the full text of the bill for your reading pleasure: