California’s War on Internet Freedom


California seems to be waging war on internet freedom.

Last week, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a new social media transparency law that poses a serious threat to free speech. Known as AB 587, the law will require social media companies to disclose their content moderation policies and submit detailed descriptions of their efforts to police speech in certain categories, including hate speech, extremism and harassment. Failure to demonstrate that they regulate, edit and no doubt censor what appears on their platforms could lead to heavy fines for social media companies.

As noted by Eric Goldman, a law professor at Santa Clara University School of Law, the law will have drastic consequences. This effectively forces social media companies to please regulators now empowered to oversee them.

But that wasn’t the only attack on online freedom launched by California lawmakers last week. Newsom has also signed the California Age Appropriate Design Code Act. This is arguably an even more disturbing move than AB 587.

The Age-appropriate Design Code Act aims to protect children from harmful online content, emphasizing that the interests of children come first when companies design and develop their online services. This law effectively insists that all internet users should be treated like children.

After all, the law will apply to any company “likely to be consulted by a child” or unable to establish the age of its consumers “with a reasonable level of certainty” – which goes for most companies. Companies will therefore have to assume that the child, defined by law as anyone under the age of 18, is the default user.

This doesn’t just mean, for example, that an online company’s privacy settings need to be set at the highest level. This law goes well beyond the scope of traditional data protection laws. It also means companies need to make sure that they don’t expose their users to content deemed harmful, as those users could be children. This will affect both traditional media and social media platforms. They will all have to design their offerings accordingly, filtering out news and content that may be deemed harmful to children.

Under this law, it is likely that age verification for all users on almost all websites will become the norm.

The implications of these new laws are truly shocking. They will undoubtedly be the subject of many legal challenges in the coming months, which could lead to some redesigns. But, to a large extent, any modification would be pointless. The details of the legislation may be disputed, but the assumptions on which they are based remain largely unchallenged.

Above all, the two acts are based on the principle that Internet users need to be protected; that they cannot take care of themselves.

These laws undermine fundamental adult values ​​and principles, from privacy to freedom of expression. California is becoming a society that clearly no longer trusts adults.

But if you think this is a quintessentially California phenomenon, think again. California’s Age-Appropriate Design Code Act is explicitly based on UK’s own law. Children’s code. Additionally, California is the Big Tech capital of the world. What happens in California will have global repercussions. Regulators in every capital city around the world will no doubt seek to emulate the regulatory regime being established in California.

Once again, it seems that our political and technological elites act as if they know what is best for us. We have to show them that they really don’t.

Norman Lewis is a writer and managing director of Future diagnosis.

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