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California just passed a law that bans bots from pretending to be real people

It’s about damn time.

twitter being shown on phone screen for bots
Image: VideoBlocks

Following its decision to ban the use of bots in political campaigns, California is stepping up its war on trolls.

Last month, The Golden State passed a bill that would force bot accounts to identify themselves as such when selling products or influencing voters. From California Senator and author of the bill, Robert Hertzberg, in an interview with The New Yorker:

“It’s literally taking these high-end technological concepts and bringing them home to basic common-law principles. “You can’t defraud people. You can’t lie. You can’t cheat them economically. You can’t cheat ’em in elections. ”

The law, which went into effect on July 1st, works under the same rules that apply to commercials featuring “real-life testimonials” you see on TV. Whereas those commercials must disclose when paid actors are being used in place of actual customers, this new law seeks to end the practice of using bots to impersonate humans.

As you might expect, there are some naysayers

Chiefly, people like Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (of course). When fielding a question as on a related subject at the Aspen Ideals Festival last week, Zuckerberg stated that “I do not think we want to go so far towards saying that a private company prevents you from saying something that it thinks is factually incorrect. That to me just feels like it’s too far and goes away from the tradition of free expression.”

Wow, what a surprising take from a guy whose site played a major roll in the tampering of the 2016 election, and who once said that Holocaust deniers have a place on his platform. Great stuff as always, Zucks.

As The New Yorker points out, this law is long overdue

There were at least 50,000 Russian-controlled bots posting to Twitter in the lead-up to the 2016 election. The number of pro-Trump bots outnumbered the pro-Hillary bots five-to-one. Facebook has admitted the huge role it play in the spread of this misinformation, yet isn’t doing a whole lot to fix it.

Social media has created this paradox where information is more readily available than ever before, yet it’s arguably the hardest its ever been to distinguish what the actual truth is. No matter which side of the political fence you fall on, chances are that the “fake news” you’re sifting through every day was started by bots.

That whole Little Mermaid controversy you definitely heard about this week? Started by a Russian bot. The dirge of negative tweets and reviews about The Last Jedi? At least half of them were Russian bots. And those are for things that don’t even matter (don’t @ me, Star Wars people).

What do you think? Glad to see such a law going into effect? Let us know down below in the comments or carry the discussion over to our Twitter or Facebook.

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Writer. Editor. Barelyknewer. Hate mail can be directed to j j o n e s @ k a r s f o r k i d s d o t e a r t h l i n k

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