California Wants to Make It a Crime to Post Fake News and Wrong, Deceptive and “Alternative Facts”

The California Assembly wanted to be one of the first states to try to ban so-called “fake news,” and it could have sweeping ramifications for social media users across the state. Thank Zeus, they pulled the bill. For now.

The bill, filed in the Assembly’s Committee on Privacy and Consumer Affairs, seeks, essentially, to make it a crime to be wrong on the Internet. The text of the bill implicates anyone who writes, publishes or even shares news stories they know could be false, if those news stories later have an impact on an election.

18320.5. It is unlawful for a person to knowingly and willingly make, publish or circulate on an Internet Web site, or cause to be made, published, or circulated in any writing posted on an Internet Web site, a false or deceptive statement designed to influence the vote on either of the following:
(a) Any issue submitted to voters at an election.
(b) Any candidate for election to public office.

Share fake news, in other words, and face a punishment leveled by the state of California. But what if you’re in another state?
The bill does say that you have to “knowingly and willfully” make reference to a set of “alternative facts,” but it doesn’t give details on who would determine a story is “fake news” or, for that matter, what a “fake news” story even is.

“At a time when political leaders are promoting ‘alternative facts’ and branding unflattering reporting as ‘fake news,’ we don’t think it’s a good idea to give the government more power to punish speech,” said Dave Maas, an investigative researcher for the EFF.

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