New Law to Prevent Fake News Will Cause Harm

Fake NewsRecently passed legislation in California that targets online bots purports to address the fake news problem and the undue influence of advertising. It accomplishes none of that. The legislation will, however, allow government officials to target ordinary behavior by companies, candidates and political organizations that is not conventionally considered “bot” activity.

The new law, which goes into effect in 2019, makes it illegal for anyone to use a bot to communicate with anyone in California online without disclosing that they are in fact using a bot. Though the law applies only to bots used to influence people’s purchases or votes, the law’s definition of “bot” is severely overbroad.

The law defines “bot” as “an automated online account where all or substantially all of the actions or posts of that account are not the result of a person.” Yet in our highly-automated world, this language can include innumerable activities that the legislation’s authors may not consider “bot” activity.

People who work in digital fields like social media, for instance, often use automated processes to complete simple, repetitive tasks that would otherwise take up valuable time. Many social media managers use a feature native to website platforms and media management tools that tweets new website posts automatically, as soon as they are posted on a company’s website. Organizations strapped for time and resources find this feature particularly helpful. If those posts are commercial or electoral in nature and do not state that they are bot-driven, it is possible that they would violate the law.

What about online store automated chats? These chats mimic the behaviors of customer support staff and exist to help guide users through purchases. Since customer service issues can often be solved without a single human interaction, these “bots” are far more cost-efficient than hiring additional employees. While many automated chat windows inform users they are not human so that users are not confused, some do not. Automated chats that do not disclose this information may violate California’s new law.

In the political realm, an increasing number of campaigns and committees have taken to texting supporters in much the same way they send emails. The goals of these texts vary from fundraising pushes to reminding people to vote, and the messages often include names like “Nancy Pelosi” or “Tom Cotton” to make them appear as though they originated from a big-named sender. While these texts are often approved by the person named, they are not written by the signed sender and their distribution is automated. Need a text identify itself as bot-sent under these circumstances? Under the new law, the answer is likely yes.

While all of these methods can be used nefariously, they are simply tools that can be used to achieve innocent ends. One can send an automated email to sell fraudulent goods or to sell a legitimate product. An automated campaign tweet can attempt to rally support or spread false news. Because the law as written casts such a wide net, it may be used to capture people who use bots for benign purposes.

Moreover, this law would not target the heart of the issues it purportedly addresses — fake news and fraudulent advertising. Fake news requires a human hand in the generation process because the stories are designed for shock value, often in a way that ties in current events, and thus may not be covered by the law. The concern with advertising bots relates to an incident where Russian bots tricked marketers into buying millions of dollars of video ads that never ended up acquiring real views. Yet it is unclear whether the law would substantially impede this sort of activity. In this instance, the bots did not interact with users but merely mimicked web surfers and gave the videos “views.” The law does not apply to bots that do not communicate with real people.

At best, the law will sit and collect dust. At worst, it will sweep many online stores, political committees and candidates into the justice system abyss. In practice, as with many vague laws, officials will likely apply them only to disfavored companies and groups.

Even if the law ends up requiring accounts that do spread fake news and false advertisements to be labeled as “bots,” the law will also apply to many legitimate publications and companies. This means that both legitimate and illicit automated systems will all have the “bot” label. And if everyone online is a bot, then nobody is a bot.

igital media manager and a fellow at the R Street Institute, a free-market think tank in Washington, D.C.

Gov. Brown Vetoes ‘Fake News’ Bill

jerry-brown-signs-lawsCalifornia Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a bill Thursday, SB 1424, that would have created a state advisory group to study the problem of “fake news” and make recommendations for intervening in social media to deal with it.

As Breitbart News reported in April, the original bill was far more aggressive: “The bill, filed quietly in late February as SB 1424, requires all California-based websites to develop a plan to fight ‘fake news,’ to use ‘fact-checkers,’ and to warn readers — including via social media — of ‘false information.’”

The final version was significantly watered down. Still, Brown vetoed it as “unnecessary,” in a statement reported by CBS Sacramento:

This bill directs the Attorney General to establish an advisory group to study the problem of the spread of false information through Internet-based social media platforms. As evidenced by the numerous studies by academic and policy groups on the spread of false information, the creation of a statutory advisory group to examine this issue is not necessary.

Social media companies have instituted a number of mechanisms to fight “fake news,” though conservatives have complained that these are often censorship in another guise.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

This article was originally published by Breitbart.com/California

California Democrat Introduces Bill to Force Websites to Use ‘Fact-Checkers’

Richard PanCalifornia State Senator Dr. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) has proposed a bill, the “Online False Information Act,” that would require anyone who posts news on the Internet to verify their information through “fact-checkers.”

The bill, filed quietly in late February as SB 1424, requires all California-based websites to develop a plan to fight “fake news,” to use “fact-checkers,” and to warn readers — including via social media — of “false information.”

The bill reads as follows:

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.

(a) 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.

The bill would arguably impose onerous costs on individuals and businesses alike, and would serve as a tool for censorship by subjecting dissenting opinions to review via “fact-checkers.”

It is not clear who would appoint the “fact-checkers.”

Currently, Facebook uses fact-checkers approved by the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN), an organization run by the Poynter Institute, which in turn is funded, in part, by George Soros’s Open Society Foundation and other liberal organizations.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named to Forward’s 50 “most influential” Jews in 2017. He is the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak

This article was originally published by Breitbart.com/California

This is where California legislation goes to die

Bills and legislationShortly after last year’s presidential election, Democrats in the California Legislature drew headlines by introducing a flurry of bills attacking “fake news.” They called for more resources to teach media literacy, so public school students could better discern facts from the kind of bogus stories that proliferated online during the campaign.

Yet in the months since, all three of those bills have quietly met their demise, victims of the Legislature’s appropriations committees. Officially, the committees—one in each house—are supposed to pull the Legislature’s purse strings, weighing how much a proposal is expected to cost, and comparing bills against one another to establish priorities for spending state tax dollars. Unofficially, the appropriations committee is where bills go to die—especially the ones the ruling party wants to bury with little trace.

This month the appropriations committees quietly killed the last of the fake news bills, a pile of marijuana measures, a proposal to create a “pro-choice” license plate and another to allow cities to keep bars open until 4 a.m.—an issue few lawmakers outside of San Francisco seem to regard as a burning problem.

As befits a good murder plot, lawmakers target potential victims by placing the bills on what they call the “suspense file.” Then, twice a year, the appropriations committees cull through all these bills, allowing some to proceed to a floor vote but stopping many in their tracks. In other committees, lawmakers publicly vote when they kill a bill, attaching their names and reputations to the decision. But there is no public vote when the appropriations committees snuff out bills on the suspense file.

“It’s the closest thing that the Legislature has to a veto power,” said former Assemblyman Mike Gatto, a Los Angeles Democrat who chaired the appropriations committee from 2012 to 2014.

Sure, decisions are based on weighing the costs and benefits of the proposed policies, Gatto said. “But it’s also a cost-benefit analysis politically: How much does the house want to put a bill like this on the floor?”

Euthanizing a bill in this way shields lawmakers from having to cast a difficult floor vote—often choosing between a popular idea and one that aggravates powerful interests in the state Capitol.

A look at some of the dozens of bills that appropriations committees recently axed:

Making school spending more transparent: AB 1321 would have required every school to publish reports on how much money they spend per student. Civil rights groups said it would ensure that funds intended to help needy children are spent in their classrooms. But teachers unions and school administrators—influential forces in the Capitol—spent most of the year opposing the bill by Democratic Assemblywoman Shirley Weber of San Diego.

Water under the Mojave desert: Environmentalists backed AB 1000 as an attempt to block a controversial project that would pump groundwater out of the Mojave desert and direct it to more populous communities near the coast. The bill also had the unusual support of Gov. Jerry Brown and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein. But labor and business groups opposed it, and the project developer, a company called Cadiz, is a big political donor. After killing the bill, Senate appropriations chairman Ricardo Lara released a statement saying the project had gone through extensive environmental review and the Legislature shouldn’t interfere. Cadiz stock then shot up 31 percent.

Protecting whistleblowers in their midst: State employees who report government wrongdoing are protected from being fired under the Whistleblower Protection Act—but not if they work for the Legislature. So for four years, Republican Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez of Lake Elsinore has introduced a bill to extend whistleblower protection to legislative employees. And for four years, the bill has been buried by the Senate appropriations committee.

Blocking coastal oil drilling: After President Donald Trump signed an executive order that could expand oil and gas drilling into federal waters off the California coast, Democratic Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson of Santa Barbara introduced a bill intended to block it. Her SB 188 would have prohibited the state from approving new leases on pipelines or other infrastructure needed to support new oil and gas development. The bill would have cost the state millions of dollars in lost leases. Its demise in the Assembly appropriations committee marked a loss for environmentalists and a win for oil companies—and the Trump Administration.

Watchdogging the police: Prompted by a string of high-profile police shootings, Democrats introduced a handful of bills intended to create more public trust in police. AB 748 would have made public more footage from police body cameras. AB 284 would have required a public report on two years of police shootings in California. Law enforcement groups opposed both bills, but supported another that also was killed: AB 1428, which would have provided the public with more information about the status of complaints against police officers.

In a Legislature that processes thousands of bills each year, the two appropriations committees play a critical role in culling ideas—but many could have been rejected earlier if lawmakers were more willing to say no.

“There are pressures from lobbyists, pressures from leadership, pressures from constituents. And the path of least resistance is for members to rely on this end-game that plays out very quickly on a Friday,” said Steve Boilard, executive director of the Center for California Studies at California State University, Sacramento.

“It allows a critical mass of legislators to get the outcome they want without having to put their name on that hard choice of saying no.”

That might explain why the Assembly appropriations committee quashed a bill that would have reduced the fine for rolling through a red light on a right turn from $100 to $35. Who would possibly want to vote against that?

This article was originally published by CalMatters

CA Legislators Want Russian Election Influence Taught to High Schoolers

hacking-skill-for-future.w654In the wake of a turbulent election season and a disturbing new study on the credulity of many political news consumers, a handful of California legislators have put forward new bills designed to ensure the state’s public schools make students aware that not everything purporting to be factual reportage is as true or unbiased as it seems. Although “fake news” has swiftly become a recognized problem, it has also become a political football — a label with which to swiftly discredit opponents or undermine criticism.

Wave of worry

“A bill from Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, will ask the state to adopt high school history curricula based on a recent national intelligence assessment that Russia tried to influence the election by producing fake news and hacking into Democrat Hillary Clinton’s campaign,” the San Jose Mercury News reported. “Another bill, introduced last week by Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, would require schools to teach children ‘media literacy’ — including how to tell the difference between ‘fake news’ and real news.”

“During the final, critical months of the 2016 presidential campaign, 20 top-performing false election stories from hoax websites and hyperpartisan blogs generated 8,711,000 shares, reactions and comments on social media,” SB135 read, according to the paper.

Additionally, lawmakers will consider a companion “fake news” bill, AB155, introduced by Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez, D-Los Angeles, which “would require the state to establish curriculum standards and frameworks to teach ‘civic online reasoning’ to middle- and high-schoolers,” as the Washington Post reported.

“Ordinary people once relied on publishers, editors and subject matter experts to vet the information they consumed, but information shared on the internet is disseminated rapidly and often without editorial oversight, making it easier for fake news to reach a large audience,” his bill suggested. “When fake news is repeated, it becomes difficult for the public to discern what’s real,” Gomez said in a statement, according to the paper. “These attempts to mislead readers,” he warned, “pose a direct threat to our democracy.”

From bias to ignorance

The line has blurred in recent years between factual reporting and deliberately misleading or partial content, with partisans on opposite ends of the ideological divide hurling contending accusations. In addition to fears that outside propaganda could impact voting patterns at home, the credibility of both mainstream and alternative outlets — online and off — has come under question.

So too has the responsiveness of American schools and universities to the problem and its sources, which reach deeper than partisan preferences or agendas. “In November, a Stanford University study found that 82 percent of high school students surveyed could not distinguish between a reported news story and an advertisement,” the Guardian observed. “During last year’s election, rumors and false reports spread widely, and in the aftermath of the vote partisans began to accuse each other of propagating ‘fake news.’” In introducing his legislation, Gomez invoked the Stanford report as reason for action:

“President Barack Obama and President-elect Donald Trump have both denounced ‘fake news’ in recent weeks, to different purposes. In November, Obama warned that democracies would be threatened by the spread of misinformation and false reports, and by the discrediting of once trusted news sources. This week, Trump seized on the phrase ‘fake news’ to characterize unsubstantiated allegations about him, blaming BuzzFeed and CNN in particular.”

The debate over what counts as fake news, and who gets to decide, has helped ensure that California’s new bills won’t sail through the Legislature without at least some criticism. State Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, for instance, called Levine’s bill “petty” and “showmanship.”

“I’d just be happy if we taught kids how to read and write and do arithmetic,” he told the Mercury News.

This piece was originally published by CalWatchdog.com