News and Commentary

California Threatens First Amendment Protections With ‘Fake News Ban’

The California State Assembly introduced a bill on February 17 that attempts to ban “fake news” in The Golden State. On Wednesday, the bill, introduced by Assemblymember Ed Chau (D – Monterey Park), was filed to the Assembly’s Committee on Privacy and Consumer Affairs. The bill intends to amend the California Political Cyberfraud Abatement Act to make it unlawful to spread “false or deceptive” information according to the California Elections Code. Here is the text of the proposed amendment:

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.

The text of the amended statute is vague. It does not explicitly define what constitutes a “false or deceptive statement,” allowing subjective interpretations of misinformation, or “fake news,” a label that individuals use to describe stories or narratives that they do not agree with. It also poses a problem for individuals on social media who share opinions or stories that come from a particular political angle or arrive at conclusions that an official might deem to be false, even if the story is grounded in fact. The amendment also does not address stories covering disputed facts or facts that are believed to be true at the time they are published, but later disproved.

California’s amended bill challenges the First Amendment, since it would hold someone criminally liable for “knowingly” or “willingly” exercising their freedoms of speech and of the press in a manner that another might consider problematic. The Supreme Court has long defended an individual’s right to articulate expressive content, including political speech.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation slammed Assemblymember Chau for the proposed bill, saying that he cannot fight “fake news with a bad law.”

“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,” the organization said in a memo.

With the Left’s concerted efforts to silence conservative news sites through the “fake news” label, as they have with the Daily Wire and many others, we will be watching this free speech-endangering bill closely.

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