Elon Musk’s X Corp has taken legal action to oppose California’s content moderation law, AB 587. The company has filed a complaint in a US district court in California, seeking both a preliminary and permanent injunction to prevent California Attorney General Robert Bonta from enforcing the law.
AB 587, enacted in September 2022, mandates that social media platforms must provide semi-annual “terms of service reports” to California’s attorney general. These reports must include “a detailed description of content moderation practices used” and information regarding the handling of hate speech, racism, extremism, radicalization, disinformation, misinformation, harassment, and foreign political interference. Additionally, social media platforms must disclose data and statistics related to their content moderation actions within these categories.
In its complaint, X Corp alleges that California is attempting to interfere with its terms of service and compel the disclosure of sensitive information about how it moderates content on its platform.
The law specifies that all platforms must begin collecting data for their first terms of service report, covering content moderation activities during the third quarter of 2023, and submit these reports to Attorney General Bonta by January 1, 2024. Violations of the law, such as failing to post terms of service about content moderation, missing submission deadlines for terms of service reports, or providing inaccurate or incomplete information about content moderation, could result in substantial fines, which X Corp describes as “draconian financial penalties,” amounting to up to $15,000 per violation per day.
X Corp contends that AB 587 infringes upon the First Amendment by compelling companies like itself to engage in speech against their will and interfering with constitutionally protected editorial judgments. They argue that if the law is not blocked, it could pressure companies to censor constitutionally protected speech deemed undesirable or harmful by the state.
While California portrays AB 587 as a “transparency measure” requiring social media companies to make their content moderation policies and statistics public, X Corp alleges that the state’s true intent is to force platforms to eliminate specific constitutionally protected content that the state deems problematic.
X Corp also argues that AB 587 violates other laws, including the Dormant Commerce Clause, as it fails to restrict its extensive reporting requirements solely to information about Californians, and Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which provides platforms with immunity from liability for good faith actions to restrict access to objectionable material.
The author of AB 587, California assemblymember Jesse Gabriel, insists that the law is solely a transparency measure, requiring companies to be transparent about their content moderation practices, rather than dictating specific content moderation policies.
However, tech groups and policy experts, including Adam Kovacevich, CEO of the tech industry policy coalition Chamber of Progress, and Netchoice, a group representing tech companies and trade associations, share X Corp’s concerns. They argue that forcing companies to disclose their content moderation strategies could have adverse consequences and impede online free speech, suggesting that allowing platforms to establish their editorial standards provides users with more choices regarding the platforms they use. Netchoice specifically refers to AB 587 as “the Golden State’s new online censorship law” and supports X Corp.’s lawsuit to protect free speech online.