X, the social media company previously known as Twitter, is suing the state of California over a law that requires companies to disclose details about their content moderation practices, Engadget reported.
The law, known as AB 587, requires social media companies to publish information about their handling of hate speech, extremism, misinformation and other issues, as well as details about internal moderation processes.
According to Engadget, lawyers for X argue that the law is unconstitutional and will lead to censorship. It “has both the purpose and likely effect of pressuring companies such as X Corp. to remove, demonetize, or deprioritize constitutionally-protected speech,” the company wrote in the lawsuit. “The true intent of AB 587 is to pressure social media platforms to ‘eliminate’ certain constitutionally-protected content viewed by the State as problematic.”
ArsTechnica reported that Elon Musk’s X Corp. sued to block California’s content moderation law, AB 587. In its complaint, filed by a US district court in California, X Corp. is seeking a preliminary and permanent injunction stopping California Attorney Robert Bonta from enforcing the law.
According to ArsTechnica, AB 587 passed in September 2022, requiring social media platforms to submit a “terms of service report” semi-annually to California’s attorney general, providing “a detailed description of content moderation practices used” and “information about whether, and if so how, the social media company defines and moderates” hate speech or racism, extremism or radicalization, disinformation or misinformation, harassment, and foreign political interference.” Under the law, social media platforms must also provide information and statistics on any content moderation actions taken in those categories.
The law stipulated that all platforms were required to start collecting data for their first terms of service report covering content moderation during the third quarter of 2023 and submit those reports to California’s Attorney General Rob Bonta by January 1, 2024.
Platforms could be found violating the law for failing to post terms of service about content moderation, missing a deadline to submit a terms of service report, or materially omitting or misrepresenting information about content moderation. Any platform violating the law risks fines – which X described as “draconian financial penalties” – up to $15,000 per violation per day.
TechCrunch reported that AB 587 was signed into law a year ago. At the time, California Governor Gavin Newsom wrote: “Californian’s deserve to know how these platforms are impacting our public discourse, and this action brings much-needed transparency and accountability to the policies that shape the social media content we consume every day.”
According to TechCrunch, California has definitely placed itself at the heavier end of the government involvement spectrum, partly because of the states’ inherently progressive character and partly because, as the cradle and playground for many of these companies, it enjoys a particular attainment to and influence on their affairs. California’s privacy bill, for instance, is widely seen as a precursor to a national law similarly attempting to protect consumers from the depredations of tech companies.
The tendency is at odds with the philosophy of Elon Musk, owner of X/Twitter and self-described “free speech absolutist.” After more or less eliminating the teams and efforts at the company dedicated to defining and responding to matters like hate speech and disinformation, he may find it difficult to comply with AB 587 even if he did not find doing so objectionable.
In my opinion, proclaiming yourself to be a “free speech absolutist” is not going to cause California to suddenly drop AB 587. It appears that this specific California law could potentially be accepted by various other like-minded states. If so, then that would put more pressure on X to follow that law.