State legislators in California are pushing for a law that would require Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms to identify bots, automated accounts that can be created or used by individuals or organizations. Most recently, bots, reportedly out of Russia, generated hundreds of posts on gun control in the wake of the shooting in Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Russia-linked bots also played a role sharing Donald Trump’s tweets almost 500,000 times in the final weeks of the 2016 election.
Bloomberg reports that, “the proposed bill would make it illegal for bots to communicate with a person in the state with ‘the intention of misleading and without clearly and conspicuously disclosing that the bot is not a natural person’,” and “would require the social platforms to let people report violations, respond to those reports, and provide bimonthly details of those violations to the state Attorney General.”
Democratic state senator Bob Hertzberg, who introduced the bill, noted that, “We need to know if we are having debates with real people or if we’re being manipulated.” “Right now we have no law and it’s just the Wild West,” he added.
According to Common Sense Media national director of advocacy and communications Shum Preston, “California feels a bit guilty about how our hometown companies have had a negative impact on society as a whole.”
“We are looking to regulate in the absence of the federal government,” he said. “We don’t think anything is coming from Washington.”
California’s proposed legislation, although dealing with “the broader problem of manipulation on the technology platforms … would be difficult to enforce” because platforms “can’t always easily identify what accounts are bots, as software programs become more sophisticated and mix human interactions with automation.”
California isn’t the only state introducing such legislation. In New York, governor Andrew Cuomo and the state assembly, controlled by Democrats, “are working to push through a law that would require election ads on social media to reveal the identity of the buyer.” Nationally, Congress’ Honest Ads Act, which has bipartisan support, is an effort to regulate online election ads, and “the Federal Election Commission is also considering a proposal to require online ads to carry the same disclaimers from sponsors as do radio, television and print ads.”