from the simply-unconstitutional dept
Just last week, we wrote about a fairly insane bill up for consideration in the California Assembly. AB-1104 would effectively make it illegal to post or share any "false or deceptive statement designed to influence" an election. As we noted at the time, this is about as unconstitutional as you could possibly imagine. Again, here's the text, as put forth by Assemblymember Ed Chau:
It is unlawful for a person to knowingly and willingly make, publish or circulate on an Internet Web site, or cause to be made, published, or circulated in any writing posted on an Internet Web site, a false or deceptive statement designed to influence the vote on either of the following:(a) Any issue submitted to voters at an election.
(b) Any candidate for election to public office.
Yes, merely posting or sharing something that turns out to be wrong or "deceptive" related to anyone or any issue related to an election could violate the law. That's... not how the First Amendment works. And this would be an absolute free speech nightmare.
Chau, somewhat astoundingly, actually is a lawyer who ran his own law practice. I'm now curious if the Southwestern University School of Law doesn't teach its students about the basics of the First Amendment.
Rather than everyone laughing and this bill dying as soon as it was introduced, the California Assembly's Committee on Privacy and Consumer Affairs (which Chau chairs) is set to consider this bill today.
In case you don't understand just how bad this is, here's EFF's description:
American political speech dating back as far as the John Adams-Thomas Jefferson rivalry has involved unfair smears, half and stretched truths, and even outright lies. During the 2016 campaign alone, PolitiFact ranked 202 statements made by President Donald Trump as mostly false or false statements and 63 “Pants on Fire” statements. Hillary Cllinton made 69 statements ranked mostly false or false and seven as “Pants on Fire.”
This bill will fuel a chaotic free-for-all of mudslinging with candidates and others being accused of crimes at the slightest hint of hyberbole, 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.
Because the California Assembly is considering this bill today, EFF has also set up an action center making it easy to tweet at California Assemblymembers, to let them know just how bad this censorship law would be. Please check it out, especially if you live in California.