Lawmakers call for better reporting of social media disinformation, hate speech

Originally published in Spectrum News on May 06, 2021.

Two Democratic lawmakers in the state Senate and Assembly on Thursday unveiled three bills meant to enhance reporting of hate speech and misinformation online.

The bills, backed by Sen. Anna Kaplan and Assemblywoman Pat Fahy, would require social media companies to provide and maintain tools for reporting hate speech as well as misinformation surrounding vaccines and elections.

"New Yorkers know the expression 'if you see something, say something,' but unfortunately many social media platforms make it impossible to speak out when you see something dangerous or harmful online," Kaplan said. "This legislation will empower social media users to keep virtual spaces safer for all by providing clear and consistent reporting mechanisms for hate speech, and misinformation about vaccines or elections, and with the problem getting worse by the day, we need to take this action right away."

Social media sites would also be required to have an accessible reporting mechanism on their mobile apps and websites. And social media sites would be required to maintain consistent policies for responding to reports made through those tools.

“The alarming spread of misinformation and hate speech across our online and social media platforms is only growing," Fahy said. "Unfortunately, many social media platforms like Facebook have inadequate reporting mechanisms and apply their self-promulgated guidelines arbitrarily and are often ineffective at preventing the spread of hate speech or other misinformation online before it’s simply too late. These pieces of legislation send a strong message to social media platforms and companies; that they must take real action to safeguard free speech online and protect New Yorkers from the spread of dangerous misinformation."