California Legislators Introduce Bipartisan Effort to Hold Social Media Companies Accountable for Online Hate and Disinformation

Groundbreaking Legislation Would Require Social Media Companies to Publicly Disclose Corporate Policies and Key Metrics Regarding Online Hate, Disinformation, and Extremism

For immediate release:

SACRAMENTO, CA — Amid increasing concerns about the role of social media in spreading bigotry, disinformation, and conspiracy theories, Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel (D-Woodland Hills) today announced new legislation that will bring much-needed transparency and accountability to the role of social media platforms in amplifying extreme and dangerous content and driving severe political polarization. The first-of-its-kind measure, the Social Media Transparency and Accountability Act of 2021 (Assembly Bill (AB) 587), would require social media platforms to publicly disclose their corporate policies regarding online hate, disinformation, extremism, harassment, and foreign interference, as well as key metrics and data regarding the enforcement of those policies. 

“Californians are becoming increasingly alarmed about the role of social media in promoting hate, disinformation, conspiracy theories, and extreme political polarization,” said Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel. “It’s long past time for these companies to provide real transparency into their content moderation practices. The public and policymakers deserve to know when and how social media companies are amplifying certain voices and silencing others. This is an important first step in a broader effort to protect our democracy and better regulate social media platforms.” 

In recent years, Twitter, along with other social media platforms, has been implicated as a venue for hate groups to safely grow. A recent study of Twitter posts from 100 U.S. cities found that the greater proportion of tweets related to race- and ethnicity-based discrimination in a given city, the more hate crimes were occurring in that city. Robert Bowers, accused of murdering 11 elderly worshipers at a Pennsylvania synagogue in 2018, had been active on Gab, a Twitter-like site used by white supremacists. Most recently, investigations have shown that the violent riots at the Capitol in early January of this year were abetted and encouraged by posts on social media sites. Despite widespread concerns, efforts by social media companies to self-police have been widely criticized as inadequate. 

AB 587 would address this troubling lack of transparency by requiring social media platforms to file semi-annual reports disclosing: (1) their corporate policies on hate speech, disinformation, extremism, harassment, and foreign political interference; (2) their efforts to enforce those policies; and (3) any changes to their policies or enforcement practices.  AB 587 also would require quarterly reports disclosing key metrics and data regarding such content, including the number of pieces of content, groups, and users flagged for violation; the method of flagging (e.g., human reviewers, artificial intelligence, etc.); the number of actions; and they type and content of action flagged.

AB 587 is supported by a coalition of leading civil rights and technology accountability organizations:

  • “This legislation would move us closer to holding social media companies accountable for the hate and harassment they allow on their platforms, particularly when that hate and harassment leads to violence. The reporting requirements outlined in the bill will put big tech’s conduct under a bright light, and it is our hope that social media companies would either respond by improving their corporate policies and the enforcement of those policies or that the reporting requirements would provide enough evidence for legal action against them if real progress is not made” -  Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League
  • “Social media platforms—and their algorithms—are inciting and amplifying hate, racism, and misinformation. Our society is more divided than ever, and social media is helping to drive us apart. We need to hold them accountable for their role in this division and Common Sense supports AB 587" - James P. Steyer, founder and CEO of Common Sense Media
  • "A handful of Big Tech companies increasingly shape everything from our information ecosystem and public discourse, to the safety of individuals and communities. These seismic decisions are being made not only without regulatory guardrails, but without any semblance of transparency. The status quo is broken—and it can't be fixed while policymakers and consumers alike are being kept in the dark. This bill would force Big Tech to finally turn on the lights.” - Jesse Lehrich, Co-Founder of Accountable Tech 
  • “It is beyond time for social media companies to be held accountable for the role they play in the spread of white supremacy, hate, conspiracies, and extremism online. NHMC commends Assemblymember Gabriel on his introduction of this important transparency legislation in the state of California. Latinx are nearly forty percent of California and deserve to know exactly how platforms are or are not moderating content to keep us safe” - Brenda Victoria Castillo, President & CEO of the National Hispanic Media Coalition
  • “Greater transparency can combat the rise of disinformation, hate speech, and calls to violence that are omnipresent on social media and destructive to our democracy. By creating clear guidelines requiring online platforms to disclose their policies and their enforcement of those policies, the Social Media Transparency and Accountability Act of 2021 will increase public trust and engender more awareness by tech companies about the deceptive and harmful activity on their platforms. To preserve our democracy, social media platforms must be accountable and transparent to the public, and this bill is an important step in that direction” - Ann M. Ravel, Policy Director at Decode Democracy and former Chair of the Federal Election Commission

AB 587 is expected to be heard in Assembly policy committees in the coming weeks.