No, SB 1424 is Not a Censorship Bill Criminalizing Anti-Vaccine Misinformation

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Mick West

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pan bill.jpg

California Senator Dr. Richard Pan has introduced a bill (SB 1424) which currently reads as follows:

https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=201720180SB1424

This bill would require the Attorney General, not later than April 1, 2019, to establish an advisory group consisting of at least one member of the Department of Justice, as well as Internet-based social media providers, civil liberties advocates, and First Amendment scholars to study the problem of the spread of false information through Internet-based social media platforms, and draft a model strategic plan for Internet-based social media platforms to use to mitigate this problem. The bill would require the Attorney General, by December 31, 2019, to present the results of the study and the model strategic plan to the Legislature and specified legislative committees.

BILL TEXT
THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA DO ENACT AS FOLLOWS:


SECTION 1.
Title 14.5 (commencing with Section 3085) is added to Part 4 of Division 3 of the Civil Code, to read:
TITLE 14.5. False Information Strategic Plans

3085.
The Attorney General shall, not later than April 1, 2019, establish an advisory group consisting of at least one member of the Department of Justice, Internet-based social media providers, civil liberties advocates, and First Amendment scholars, to do both of the following:
(a) Study the problem of the spread of false information through Internet-based social media platforms.
(b) Draft a model strategic plan for Internet-based social media platforms to use to mitigate the spread of false information through their platforms.
(c) Not later than December 31, 2019, present the results of the study, study and the model strategic plan to the Legislature, pursuant to Section 9795 of the Government Code, and to the Assembly and Senate Committees on Judiciary.
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Doesn't sound too bad. He wants to look at the problem of false information and try to figure out some solutions. In fact it sounds pretty weak. A study to be completed by the end of 2019 doesn't seem like anything more than a token stab at the problem.

So why then do we have claims like the following, made on a "chemtrail" site, Geoengineering Watch, on June 30, 2018
Continuing an unfolding Orwellian police state, consider this headline from multiple sources. The same corrupt government in California that pushed vaccine mandates now is forming a "fake news authority" to block news sources they don't like. "California to become like Communist China" (from this report) "if passed and signed into law SB 1424 will mandate that California Attorney General create an advisory committee by April 1st 2019 to police the information that's spread via social media and other platforms to determine whether or not it's quote true" the state's Ministry of propaganda will then come up with a plan of attack to eliminate anything that's deemed false. To be clear what is "false" for the power structure is anything that does not support its official narrative, its official lies, transitioning to a headline to further outline the runaway juggernaut of insanity that's the military-industrial complex spiraling completely out of control while the planet goes down in flames
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Source, @11:50 (automated transcript edited for clarity)

He seems to be referring to an article like this one from a "prepper" site.
https://prepforthat.com/richard-pan-sb-1424-freedom-of-speech/
Pan, who wrote and pushed for the implementation of California’s mandatory vaccine bill, now wants to thwart any dissent over vaccines online. He’s in fact, introduced a bill to stop “online false information.” This would mean that in the state of California, disagreeing with vaccine legitimacy in any way would essentially be illegal.
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There's many other sites that have similar stories, some focus on the vaccine angle, and some just talk about freedom of speech.

The reason for all this confusion seems to be a misunderstand of the way the legislative process works. Most of the stories quote this text from an old version of the bill:

Any person who operates a social media Internet Web site with physical presence in California shall develop a strategic plan to verify news stories shared on its Internet Web site.
(b) The strategic plan shall include, but is not limited to, all of the following:
(1) A plan to mitigate the spread of false information through news stories.
(2) The utilization of fact-checkers to verify news stories.
(3) Providing outreach to social media users regarding news stories containing false information.
(4) Placing a warning on a news story containing false information.
(c) As used in this section, “social media” means an electronic service or account, or electronic content, including, but not limited to, videos, still photographs, blogs, video blogs, podcasts, instant and text messages, email, online services or accounts, or Internet Web site profiles or locations.
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Note even this version of the bill is nothing like the draconian characterizations suggested earlier. The worst thing that it requires is a rather vague "Placing a warning on a news story containing false information." The intent here is obviously that sites like Facebook would have fact-checkers look at news stories, and label ones that are false. This is obviously a very hard thing to do, let alone enforce. So this provision was removed from the bill. In fact that entire section was removed from the bill.

California Senate bills go through several revisions before (possibly) coming to a vote. SB-1424 had five versions. The "placing a warning" comes from the second one dated 3/22 (an earlier 2/16 version was actually a placeholder bill that was entirely replace on 3/22). A month after that, on 4/16, all of the requirements to use fact checkers were removed, and the sole requirement placed on site operators was to display a notice saying how they decide what to show people, and if they use fact checkers. Basically asking Facebook to explain the algorithm behind their news-feed.

That was all removed on 5/10/18, replaced with the standard government cop-out: establishing a committee to study the problem, write a report and draft legislation. This was further watered down on 5/25/18, removing all mention of legislation, leaving only the weakest possible version of the bill - to study the problem, and to suggest some actions.

All these version of the bill can be seen on the California Legislative Information web site. You can look at the various version of the bill with the drop-down menu
Metabunk 2018-07-01 17-27-15.jpg

Each version of the text shows the changes from the previous version in red and struck through, like:
Metabunk 2018-07-01 17-29-11.jpg

Proposed legislation is not an action of the Government until it's signed into law. It's often just reflecting the desires of one person, and it often starts out badly formed, and impossible to pass. Pan's bill was badly written from the start, with vague language. The first version (putting notices of truefulness on posts) was so obviously unworkable that it was replaced with the version requiring notices. This went further in the legislative process, getting a report from the Senate Judiciary committee on 05/07/18
https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billAnalysisClient.xhtml?bill_id=201720180SB1424# (also attached) which quite clearly identifies additional problems with the bill, as well as objections from sources like the California Newspaper Publishers Association. For example:

With regard to the bill’s requirement that social media Web sites reveal whether or not they employ fact-checkers, CNPA writes:
As a practical matter, it would be nearly impossible to identify all of the practices used in a newsroom to verify facts. Moreover, weeding factual information from false or inaccurate material is the essence of the editorial discretion protected from government interference…
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The vagueness of the plan is discussed (remember this is the version that's already watered down from the first attempt that prompted the apocalyptic post from Geoengineering Watch)

This bill would require social media Web sites to disclose their “strategic plan to mitigate the spread of false information.” It is unclear from the bill in print whether this mandates social media Web sites to have such a plan. The bill only says that such a plan must be disclosed. Furthermore, it is not clear from the bill in print what, if anything, the strategic plan must contain.

From a constitutional point of view, it may be better if the bill does not require any specific content in the strategic plan, since any particular requirement for how a social media Web site should mitigate the spread of false information arguably veers into government-mandated censorship. Government censorship does not appear to be the author’s intent. Rather, the author’s goal seems to be to have social media Web sites disclose if and how they mitigate against the spread of false information, leaving the definition of “false information” and the proper steps for mitigating against its spread up to the social media Web site. That presumably includes not doing anything at all.
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The full analysis is worth reading, but concludes:

There is broad consensus that the spread of “false information” through social media is a significant concern. As the Comments above suggest, however, there are tremendous practical and constitutional complexities to addressing the problem. The author is fully aware of these concerns and, at the same time, determined to find a solution. While it is always less satisfying than pressing forward with legislation, this may be an instance in which the size, importance, and complexity of the issue lends itself most appropriately to stepping back and consulting with stakeholders and experts at greater length, so as to be able to craft a careful and effective remedy to this important problem.
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So no, it's not a censorship bill, not even close. There's nothing specific about vaccines in there (and there never was). The legislature in fact shows great thoughtfulness in how Pan's clumsy attempt was handled. It seems like he meant well, but given the uncertainty and rapid development of the problem, it's was never going to be something that could be solved by heavy handed legislation.

Even at its worst, the legislation was nothing like "policing the information that's spread via social media and other platforms to determine whether or not it's quote true". Right now it's nothing - do a study, report back end of 2019. By then everything will have changed again.

And it's not even passed yet.

UPDATE: Vetoed by Governor Gerry Brown as not necessary.
http://thepinetree.net/new/?p=67128
Metabunk 2018-09-21 01-47-04.jpg
 

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  • 201720180SB1424_Senate Judiciary_.pdf
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The author of this bill, Senator Richard Pan, was also co-author of California SB 277, which eliminated the personal belief exemption for vaccinations. So I assume that's why the anti-vaxxers saw this as a censorship bill -- and I do suspect that anti-vax misinformation was central to Pan's reasons for drafting the bill.

The original version of SB 1424 was really awful.
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
The author of this bill, Senator Richard Pan, was also co-author of California SB 277, which eliminated the personal belief exemption for vaccinations. So I assume that's why the anti-vaxxers saw this as a censorship bill -- and I do suspect that anti-vax misinformation was central to Pan's reasons for drafting the bill.
Quite possibly, this video is linked from the prepper site linked above:
Source: https://youtu.be/kQoSeUNgz0Q


It's actually about SB277 (requiring vaccines for schoolchildren) but the PrepForThat article makes it appear as if it's for the social media fact checking bill (SB-1424)

Once could certainly see how anti-vaccine folk would be suspicious though. Dane Wigington (of Geoengineering Watch) is also anti-vaccine, but he's also a promoter of the chemtrail theory, so is concerned he won't be able to talk about that. But I suspect it's more just another sign of "the runaway juggernaut of insanity that's the military-industrial complex spiraling completely out of control while the planet goes down in flames".

The original version of SB 1424 was really awful.

Yes, which is why it was largely re-written before it even got committee review. There's a lot of videos that attack the bill based on the original text. Most seem to have been uploaded 2 months ago.

But even those grossly misrepresent the content of the bill - which does not create government fact checker, just requires social companies to use them and flag "false" stories. It was all terribly imprecise language though with ridiculously overreaching definitions, and would have been thrown out in court (not that it had any chance of becoming law).
 

Leifer

Senior Member.
Great topic.
A viewpoint could also be......what percentage of the readers with an extreme anti gov't bias -- would be ?
And how many people ( % ) are automatically eliminated who would..... "about face" to any gov't sponsored data or stories ?

Compared to those that trust what's in the OP's bill.
SB1424
 
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Stan

New Member
Do you have a source link to the CNPA quote: "As a practical matter,..."?
And it appears that the bill has passed.
 

Stan

New Member
One interesting item is that the review board is to be PRIVATELY funded. Such funding could take more than 3 years to acquire before the bill would be repealed from lack of funding. And of course, the 1 year study will only start once such funding is available.
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
Do you have a source link to the CNPA quote: "As a practical matter,..."?
Just the linked PDF, presumably from material the CNPA submitted to the committee.
https://www.metabunk.org/attachments/201720180sb1424_senate-judiciary_-pdf.33572/

And it appears that the bill has passed.

In a slight different form, as you note now requiring private funding before it gets started.

(d) (1) The performance of the duties imposed on the Attorney General by subdivisions (a) to (c), inclusive, is contingent on the receipt of sufficient private funding to complete them. Funding shall be submitted to the Attorney General for deposit in the False Information Strategic Plans Fund which is hereby created in the State Treasury and any moneys deposited in this fund shall be subject to appropriation by the Legislature. The Department of Finance shall determine the amount necessary to fund the advisory group and its operations. Upon a determination that sufficient funds have been received, the Attorney General shall publish notice of this fact on its Internet Web site.

(2) If the funds required under paragraph (1) have not been received, and the necessary notice published, by December 31, 2021, this title, as of that date, is repealed

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I don't really see how that would work. Who is going to fund such an open ended study? I'm not really familiar with private funding provision in California state bills, but it seems like a way of just passing something largely symbolic without any impact to the state, or any real chance of it doing anything.
 

Stan

New Member
Who would fund such a study is the crucial question. Someone who clearly has an agenda and wants the results to fall a specific way would be the most likely candidate. Especially when the bill has no specification or qualification requirements as to who the 'members' would be. The way it's worded is extremely nebulous and seems very open for corruption. I.e., "I will fund it but you have to put my people on it."
This would seem to be a symbolic bill but it's been established for decades especially in the regulatory industry, that " As California goes, the rest of the country follows." A particularly biased panel could derive a particularly biased report and with the weight of government behind it, it could have the potential to bias the entire issue for a long time to come. Many regulations come out of just such poorly articulated studies. I for one would be very curious to see who does fund it (if it does get it) and to discover any relationship between them and the (somehow) chosen panel members.
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
I for one would be very curious to see who does fund it (if it does get it) and to discover any relationship between them and the (somehow) chosen panel members.
Let's wait and see. For now the original claim is debunked, and the bill itself, though passed, does nothing other than possibly do a study if someone wants to pay for it.

Start a new thread if something new happens.
 
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