A New York state senator is proposing a bill that would punish anyone who was adjudged to have made “a false statement of fact or fraudulent medical theory that is likely to endanger the safety or health of the public,” according to a statement.
“Social media algorithms are specially programmed to spread disinformation and hate speech at the expense of the public good. The prioritization of this type of content has real life costs to public health and safety,” Sen. Brad Hoylman, a Democrat, noted on Monday in a bill proposed ahead of the upcoming anniversary of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
“So when social media push anti-vaccine falsehoods and help domestic terrorists plan a riot at the U.S. Capitol, they must be held accountable. Our new legislation will force social media companies to be held accountable for the dangers they promote,” he added.
It’s not clear how Hoylman is tying the Capitol incident to “anti-vaccine” rhetoric or how he envisions the state enforcing a piece of legislation that some are already calling blatantly unconstitutional. Also, several hundred people have been arrested for various offenses related to the riot, none of whom have been charged with terrorism or sedition.
“In the week before the anniversary of the notorious January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, and as vaccine hesitancy continues to fuel the Omicron variant,” Hoylman, of Manhattan, “announced new legislation (S.7568) to hold social media platforms accountable for knowingly promoting disinformation, violent hate speech, and other unlawful content that could harm others,” the press release notes.
“While Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protects social media platforms from being treated as publishers or speakers of content shared by users on their apps and websites, this legislation instead focuses on the active choices these companies make when implementing algorithms designed to promote the most controversial and harmful content, which creates a general threat to public health and safety,” the release continues.
The release goes on to claim that social media companies “for years” have been sheltered from legal consequences regarding content posted by users on their platforms “by hiding behind Section 230.” But, Holyman charged, the platforms don’t just serve as hosts for said content. Rather, they “employ complex algorithms designed to put the most controversial and provocative content in front of users as much as possible.”
“These algorithms drive engagement with their platform, keep users hooked, and increase profits. Social media companies employing these algorithms are not an impassive forum for the exchange of ideas; they are active participants in the conversation,” the release continued.
“Social media amplification has been linked to many societal ills, including vaccine disinformation, encouragement of self-harm, bullying, and body-image issues among youth, and extremist radicalization leading to terrorist attacks like the January 6th insurrection against the U.S. Capitol,” it added.
Hoylman’s bill would empower the New York Attorney General’s office, localities, and private citizens with a “tool” in which “to hold social media companies and others accountable when they promote content they know or reasonably should know the content:”
- Advocates for the use of force, is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action, and is likely to produce such action;
- Advocates for self-harm, is directed to inciting or producing imminent self-harm, and is likely to incite or produce such action; or
- Includes a false statement of fact or fraudulent medical theory that is likely to endanger the safety or health of the public.
The measure was cited as a major violation of the First Amendment’s speech protections by Jeff Kosseff, an associate professor of cybersecurity law at the U.S. Naval Academy.
“[G]lad to see that NY is proposing social media bills with absolutely no First Amendment issues,” he tweeted on Monday.
glad to see that NY is proposing social media bills with absolutely no First Amendment issues pic.twitter.com/iglog5wdNP
— Jeff Kosseff (@jkosseff) December 27, 2021
What is a "false statement or fraudulent medical theory theory that is likely to endanger the safety or health of the public?" Would that include when public health officials told people not to wear masks in March 2020?
— Jeff Kosseff (@jkosseff) December 27, 2021
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