New York bill seeks to hold social media companies accountable for disinformation

New York would be able to hold social media companies accountable for promoting disinformation, eating disorders and “other illegal content that could harm others” under new proposal designed as a solution of circumvention of federal law.

The new bill – sponsored by State Senator Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan) – comes as lawmakers across the country scramble to tackle the damage attributed to Facebook and Instagram that has been revealed in a series leaked by whistleblower Frances Haugen earlier this year.

But under section 230 of the Federal Communications Decency Act, tech companies are not held accountable for content posted by users – and how they control it.

“We need concrete solutions to the growing problems of online disinformation and hate speech. Raising your hands in the air and saying that nothing can be done is not enough. People’s lives are in danger every day and no one is held responsible, ”said Hoylman, who introduced the bill on Dec. 3.

“The amount of online disinformation and hate speech promoted by – for-profit – social media platforms is abhorrent. “

The new bill comes as lawmakers across the country scramble to address the harm attributed to Facebook and Instagram that has been exposed in a series of leaks by whistleblower Frances Haugen.
Andrea Ronchini / NurPhoto via Getty Images

The legislation adds a section to the state penal code, adding a new cause of action for public nuisance allowing the state attorney general, municipal company lawyers or individuals to sue businesses or individuals. individuals for “knowingly or recklessly” contributing to things like promoting self-harm or misinformation about vaccines.

“No person, by conduct per se unlawful or unreasonable in any circumstances, shall knowingly or recklessly create, maintain or contribute to a situation in New York State which endangers the safety or health of the public by promoting content, including through the use of algorithms or only automatic systems that prioritize the content by a method other than solely based on the time and date of creation of that content ”, states the legislation.

But tech law experts told The Post the bill raised serious constitutional issues and would almost certainly be overturned by the courts.

The new clause allows the state attorney general, lawyers for municipal corporations or individuals to sue businesses or individuals for disseminating false information.
The new clause allows the state attorney general, lawyers for municipal corporations or individuals to sue businesses or individuals for disseminating false information.
Getty Images

“COVID disinformation, political disinformation and many other categories of ‘false’ or harmful information are protected by the First Amendment,” said Eric Goldman, professor of internet law at the University of Santa Law School. Clara in Silicon Valley.

“This bill’s attempt to restrict the dissemination of this constitutionally protected content is prima facie unconstitutional. ”

While Hoylman’s Bill tries to distinguish between sites that allow users to post certain content and promote that content by recommending it through features such as Instagram’s crawl page and Instagram’s recommendations bar YouTube, Goldman believes this distinction would not hold up in court.

Experts in tech law have said the bill raises serious constitutional issues and will almost certainly be overturned by the courts.
Experts in tech law have said the bill raises serious constitutional issues and will almost certainly be overturned by the courts.
Andrea Ronchini / NurPhoto via Getty Images

“The distinction between ‘hosting’ and ‘amplifying’ content is inconsistent,” Goldman said.

“This sponsor of the bill took an inconsistent idea and adopted his most censored option.”

David Greene, staff attorney and director of civil liberties at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, also said the bill raises concerns about the First Amendment and added that determining what content counts as coronavirus-related misinformation is “really difficult. “.

“Public health guidelines change very quickly because what we know is changing very quickly,” Greene told The Post.

“It is really very difficult to impose responsibility in an environment where the truth can be difficult to grasp at all times. “

Yet lawmakers are divided on how to address these issues without violating free speech protections, as Big Tech appears to be moderating.

Facebook fact-checkers in 2020 put a “fake news” label on an editorial in The Post, saying the coronavirus “may have” leaked from a lab.

Last May, the site was forced to revoke the ban after the Biden administration ordered U.S. intelligence agencies to investigate whether the virus had indeed been disclosed in a Chinese lab.

An October Post investigation based on documents leaked by Haugen showed that Instagram knows the app recommends images and videos that promote eating disorders to vulnerable teens.

A follow-up in December showed that the app still makes sickening content available to teens despite its promise of crackdown.

Other documents leaked by Haugen showed that Facebook struggles to crack down on human trafficking and drug cartels on its sites, among other issues.

Hoylman’s office said there was currently no complementary bill in the state assembly, but added that there was “a lot of interest in solving this problem.”


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