The fight for truth also has a red state and a blue state

To combat disinformation, California lawmakers are pushing a bill that would require social media companies to disclose information about the process of removing false, hateful or extremist material from their platforms. Texas legislators, by contrast, want to ban the biggest companies — Facebook, Twitter and YouTube — from removing posts because of political views.

In Washington, the state attorney general persuaded a court to fine a nonprofit and its attorney $28,000 for filing a baseless lawsuit in the 2020 gubernatorial election. In Alabama, lawmakers want to allow people to seek financial damages from social media platforms that shut down their accounts for posting false content.

in no significant disinformation action at the federal levelOfficials in state after state are targeting the sources of disinformation and the platforms that spread it, but they do so from vastly different ideological positions. In this deeply polarized era, even the struggle for truth is split into party lines.

The result was a cacophony of government bills and legal maneuvering that could fuel information bubbles in the nation is increasingly divided on a range of issues, including abortion, guns, the environment, and geography.

The midterm elections in November are spurring more activity at the state level. In red states, the focus has been on protecting conservative voices on social media, including those who spread unsubstantiated claims of widespread electoral fraud.

In the blue states, lawmakers have been trying to get the same companies to do more to stop the spread of conspiracy theories and other harmful information on a wide range of topics, including voting rights and Covid-19.

“We shouldn’t stand by and just give up and say this is an impossible beast that’s just going to take over our democracy,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, said in an interview.

Calling disinformation a “nuclear weapon” that threatens the democratic fabric of the country, he supports a law that would make it a crime to spread lies about elections. He praised the $28,000 fine imposed on a rights group that challenged the integrity of the state’s 2020 vote.

“We have to creatively look for potential ways to reduce its impact,” he said, referring to disinformation.

The biggest hurdle to new rules – no matter who pushes them – is the First Amendment. Social media lobbyists say that while they seek to moderate content, the government should not dictate how to do so.

Concerns about freedom of speech prevented passage of a bill in dark blue Washington that would make candidates or elected officials “spread lies about a free and fair election when it could provoke violence, would be an offense punishable by up to a year in prison.” . ”

Gov. Inslee, who faced unsubstantiated allegations of electoral fraud after he won a third term in 2020, supported the legislation, citing a 1969 Supreme Court ruling in Brandenburg v. Great Britain. Ohio. This ruling allowed the states to punish incitement to violence or criminal acts when “such propaganda is intended to incite or commit imminent lawless acts and is likely to provoke or cause such acts.”

The bill stalled in the state Senate in February, but Mr. Inslee said the scale of the problem called for urgent action.

The scale of the disinformation problem and the power of tech companies have begun to erode the notion that free speech is politically untouchable.

The new law in Texas has already gone to the Supreme Court, which blocked it from going into effect in May, although it sent the case back to the federal appeals court for further consideration. Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, signed the bill into law last year, prompted in part by decisions by Facebook and Twitter to shut down former President Donald Trump’s accounts in the aftermath of the January events. September 6, 2021, violence on Capitol Hill.

The court’s decision signaled that it may return to one key question: whether social media platforms like newspapers retain a high degree of editorial freedom.

“It’s not at all clear how our existing pre-Internet precedents should apply to large social media companies,” Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. said. wrote in disagreement with the emergency court order to suspend the law.

A federal judge last month blocked similar law in Florida, social media companies would be fined $250,000 a day if they blocked political candidates on their platforms, which have become important modern campaign tools. Other states with Republican-controlled legislatures have proposed similar measures, including Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Iowa, and Alaska.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall created an online portal through which residents can complain about the restriction of their access to social networks: alabamaag.gov/Censored. In a written response to questions, he said social media platforms have stepped up efforts to restrict content during the pandemic and the 2020 presidential election.

“During this period (and to this day), social media platforms abandoned all pretense of promoting free speech — the principle by which they marketed themselves to users — and openly and arrogantly proclaimed themselves to be the Ministry of Truth,” he wrote. “Suddenly, any point of view that deviated even slightly from the mainstream orthodoxy was being censored.”

Much of the activity at the state level today is fueled by the false claim that Mr. Trump, not President Biden, won the 2020 presidential election. While the claim has been repeatedly debunked, Republicans have cited him to introduce dozens of bills that would restrict absenteeism or mail-in voting in states they control.

The Democrats went in the opposite direction. Sixteen states have expanded people’s ability to vote, fueling preemptive accusations among conservative lawmakers and commentators that Democrats are prone to cheating.

“There is a direct link from conspiracy theories to lawsuits and state legislation,” said Sean Morales-Doyle, acting director of voting rights at the Brennan Justice Center, a non-partisan election rights organization at New York University Law School. “Now, more than ever, your right to vote depends on where you live. This year we have seen that half of the country is moving in one direction and the other half in the other.”

TechNet, a lobbying group for Internet companies, has been fighting local offerings in dozens of states. Industry leaders argue that differences in state laws create a confusing set of rules for businesses and consumers. Instead, companies have emphasized their own use of disinformation and other harmful content.

“These decisions are being made as consistently as possible,” said David Edmonson, group vice president of public policy and government relations.

For many politicians, this issue has become a powerful cudgel against opponents, with each side accusing the other of spreading lies, and both groups criticizing the social media giants.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, raised funds for the campaign on his pledge to keep fighting what he called “authoritarian companies” that sought to silence conservative voices.

In Ohio JD Vance memoirist and Republican candidate for the Senatespoke out against the social media giants, saying they were suppressing news of the foreign business dealings of Hunter Biden, the president’s son.

In Missouri, Vicki Hartzler, a former Congresswoman who ran for the Republican Senate, released a TV ad criticizing Twitter for suspending her personal account after she posted remarks about transgender athletes. “They want to cancel you,” she said in the ad, defending her remarks as “what God intended.”

OnMessage, a polling company that considers the National Republican Senate Committee a client, said 80 percent of primary voters polled in 2021 said they believe tech companies are too powerful and should be held accountable. Six years ago, only 20 percent said so.

“Voters have a palpable fear of culture being canceled and how technology is censoring political views,” said Chris Hartline, a spokesman for the Republican Senate National Committee.

In the blue states, Democrats have focused more directly on the harm that misinformation does to society, including through false election or Covid claims, and through racist or anti-Semitic material that motivated violent attacks, such as Buffalo supermarket massacre in May.

Connecticut plans to spend nearly $2 million Marketing to share factual information about voting and enable the expert to root out misinformation about voting before it goes viral. A similar attempt to set up a disinformation board at the Department of Homeland Security. provoked political anger before its work was put on hold in May pending an internal review.

In California, the State Senate is pushing legislation that would require social media to disclose their policies on hate speech, disinformation, extremism, harassment and foreign political interference. (The law does not require them to restrict content.) Another bill allows civil lawsuits against major social networks such as TikTok and Meta’s Facebook and Instagram if their products are proven to be addictive to children.

“All of these different issues that we’re facing have a common thread, and the common thread is the ability of social media to spread really problematic content,” said California Assemblyman Jesse Gabriel, a Democrat who sponsored legislation requiring more transparency from platforms. social networks. “This has major implications both online and in the physical space.”

It seems unlikely that a surge in legislative activity will have a significant impact ahead of this fall’s elections; social media will not have a single response acceptable to both sides when accusations of misinformation inevitably arise.

“Any election cycle brings with it major challenges with new platform content, but the November midterm elections seem especially explosive,” said Matt Perot, director of the University of North Carolina’s Center for Technology Policy. “Because abortion, guns, democratic participation are in the focus of voters, platforms will face serious problems in moderating speeches. It is likely that neither side will be satisfied with the decisions the platforms are making.”