Free Speech Vs. Hysteria? California Lawmakers Pull Attempt to Ban ‘Fake News’

Friday, March 31, 2017
By Paul Martin

A California bill aiming to criminalize election-related “fake news” was pulled by its author at the last minute amid massive outcry from free speech advocates.

The California Political Cyberfraud Abatement Act, proposed by Democratic Assemblyman Ed Chau, would have made it illegal to publish or circulate information about ballot measures or political candidates that are “false or deceptive” and “designed to influence the vote.”
“This bill is intended help eliminate fake news and political cyberfraud in campaigns and elections by applying existing anti-fraud protections for ballot measures to candidates as well,” the analysis of the bill on the California legislature website states.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, the leading nonprofit organization defending civil liberties online, called the proposed legislation, “a censorship bill so obviously unconstitutional, we had to double check that it was real.”

“This bill will fuel a chaotic free-for-all of mudslinging with candidates and others being accused of crimes at the slightest hint of hyperbole, exaggeration, poetic license, or common error,” the EFF wrote in a statement. “While those accusations may not ultimately hold up, politically motivated prosecutions – or the threat of such – may harm democracy more than if the issue had just been left alone.”

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