California bill proposal wants social networks to disclose bots

California has proposed legislation that, if passed, would require Facebook, Twitter, and other social platforms to disclose bots to users. The system would have to ID the bots, alerting users to the non-human behind the post and the potential propaganda it may be spreading. The proposal follows Facebook's discovery of Russia propaganda on its platform, one mirrored later on by Twitter, Reddit, and Tumblr.

Critics have called on the federal government to step in and regulate Facebook, something that hasn't yet happened. California doesn't plan to wait around, though, and has proposed legislation that could help the public discern automated postings from ones from users. Bots are commonly found on these social platforms, including others like Reddit; they can be easily purchased by anyone with an agenda.

The bill was introduced by Democratic State Senator Bob Hertzberg, who said, "We need to know if we are having debates with real people or if we're being manipulated. Right now we have no law and it's just the Wild West." The legislation doesn't stop at just identifying the bot, however.

The law, should it pass, would also make it illegal to use bots to engage in conversations with people if the conversations intent to mislead the person, or they fail to "clearly and conspicuously" disclose that the user is talking with a non-natural person. The companies would also need to provide a way for users to report bots they believe are violating the rules, plus the companies would need to respond to user reports and give the California Attorney General a bi-monthly report detailing any violations.

The move aims to reduce any given entity's or individual's ability to manipulate the public on topics using automated bots. Though attention is largely put on Facebook and Twitter, Reddit recently responded to a report about Russian propaganda on its own service. According to the company, most of that propaganda is shared by American users. The company doesn't identify whether a post was made by a bot.

SOURCE: Bloomberg