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California bill on social media authentication targets election meddling

California bill on social media authentication targets election meddling

California has enacted Senate Bill 1228 on user authentication, part of a larger legislative package designed to protect the state’s elections against misinformation, disinformation and other potentially destabilizing uses of technology. Introduced by Senator Steve Padilla, the bill requires large online platforms to require digital identity verification and labeling for users with large audiences, like “influencers,” or those distributing large amounts of AI-generated content.

Per the bill, “on a semiannual basis, a social media platform that authenticates its users shall submit to the Attorney General a statement regarding both of the following: how it authenticates its users, and whether it reports to the public if a user has been authenticated.” Conversely, “on a semiannual basis, a social media platform that does not authenticate its users shall submit to the Attorney General a statement to that effect.”

In effect, the law aims to show social media users whether the accounts they are looking at have been subject to identity verification measures, as a way to ensure accountability in a fraught election year.

“Foreign adversaries hope to harness new and powerful technology to misinform and divide America this election cycle,” says a release from Senator Padilla’s office. “Bad actors and foreign bots now have the ability to create fake videos and images and spread lies to millions at the touch of a button. We need to ensure our content platforms protect against the kind of malicious interference that we know is possible. Verifying the identities of accounts with large followings allows us to weed out those that seek to corrupt our information stream.”

To that end, the legislative package also includes Assembly Bill (AB) 2839, which puts limits on the use of deepfakes in campaign ads and independent expenditures close to election day, and AB 2655, which looks to label generative AI deepfakes and restrict “the most pernicious and obvious of them.”

According to Assemblymember Gail Pellerin, who led AB 2839, “getting the right information to voters is crucial to a functioning democracy, and it becomes very difficult to ensure the integrity of the election when these deepfakes are spread online to intentionally misinform voters.”

Padilla, Pellerin and their legislative partners worked on the laws with the California Initiative for Technology and Democracy (CITED), a project of California Common Cause.

A survey of active U.S. social media users by NSRC Market Research and Media.com shows 60 percent believe platforms should have mandatory identity verification, and 62 percent are in favor of legal accountability for posts.

On the other hand, Techdirt notes that SB1228 may not survive a constitutional challenge. Further, its criteria for determining “influential” accounts includes 25,000 views over the lifetime of an account and those blasting out high quantities of AI-generated content. This means account-holders with a single viral post and largely-ignored spam-bots will be considered “influential.”

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