California Gov. Newsom signs social media transparency bill

California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday signed a controversial bill into law that aims to force greater transparency of social media companies, setting up a potential battle over whether such measures violate free speech protections.

The law, known as A.B. 587, will require tech companies to file semiannual reports with the state’s attorney general that publicly disclose their content moderation policies regarding hate speech, disinformation and extremism. The bill was first introduced in 2021 in the wake of the Jan. 6 attacks on the Capitol and amid heightened scrutiny of tech giants’ role in fomenting extremism and violence.

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The California law is one of the most significant policy efforts to date from Democrats and civil rights groups, who are reacting to criticism that tech companies aren’t doing enough to prevent abuse on their platforms. Newsom’s signature signals that states may play a more significant role in regulating the tech industry, passing bills addressing content moderation and privacy following inaction in Congress.

“California will not stand by as social media is weaponized to spread hate and disinformation that threaten our communities and foundational values as a country,” Newsom said in a news release.

Yet major tech companies and the trade groups that represent them could bring legal challenges against the California law. They have sued to block other social media laws in conservative states such as Florida and Texas that would regulate how social media companies police content, in response to allegations that tech companies are silencing conservative viewpoints.

Earlier this year, tech industry trade groups took their battle to the Supreme Court, which temporarily blocked the Texas law.

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Though the California law aims to tackle very different concerns about social media companies, the industry and some legal experts have raised similar First Amendment concerns about the legislation.

Eric Goldman, a professor at Santa Clara University School of Law, wrote in a recent blog post that A.B. 587 “has censorial consequences.”

“The bill is likely to be struck down as unconstitutional at substantial taxpayer expense,” he wrote.

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