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California bill would clamp down on social media, require fact-checkers for news stories

Facebook's chief technology officer told a panel of U.K. lawmakers that it failed to review the terms of an app used by Cambridge Analytica to harvest data from Facebook users. (Carl Court/Getty Images)

Amid questions about social media’s influence and concerns about “fake news,” California lawmakers are considering a bill that would tighten control over free speech on an array of online activities.

SB 1424 is moving into the limelight as Congress this week grilled Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg about how the social media website operates and its alleged enabling of the Cambridge Analytica scandal and Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Zuckerberg indicated during the hearings that he would be open to some form of regulation to protect the privacy of Facebook users.

What does the bill do?

The bill was introduced by Democratic state Sen. Richard Pan and is currently under committee review. It is aimed at companies that operate a social media website and have “a physical address or presence” in California. That would include Facebook and other social media heavy hitters such as YouTube and Twitter.

The bill specifically mentions social media, which it defines as “an electronic service or account, or electronic content, including, but not limited to, videos, still photographs, blogs, video blogs, podcasts, instant and text messages, email, online services or accounts, or Internet Web site profiles or locations.”

Among other things, the bill would require social media sites to develop a strategic plan to verify news stories on its site. The strategy would include hiring fact-checkers to stop the spread of "false news" and placing disclaimers on information found to be untrue.

The bill was sent to committee for review last week.

What is the relevant part of  the bill?

The relevant text of the bill regarding the required strategic plans is as follows:

(a) Any person who operates a social media Internet Web site with physical presence in California shall develop a strategic plan to verify news stories shared on its Internet Web site.

(b) The strategic plan shall include, but is not limited to, all of the following:

(1) A plan to mitigate the spread of false information through news stories.

(2) The utilization of fact-checkers to verify news stories.

(3) Providing outreach to social media users regarding news stories containing false information.

(4) Placing a warning on a news story containing false information.

(c) As used in this section, “social media” means an electronic service or account, or electronic content, including, but not limited to, videos, still photographs, blogs, video blogs, podcasts, instant and text messages, email, online services or accounts, or Internet Web site profiles or locations.

One last thing…
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