Misinformation and hate speech online is leading to concerns our democracy is being undermined by social media. Now, state lawmakers say action is indeed.
"We know that violent hate speech has no consequences," said Assemblywoman Pat Fahy. "So just as the courts have ruled you cannot yell fire in a crowded movie theater when there is no fire, it's the same here."
Fahy, a Democrat from the Albany area, is alarmed by the growth of misinformation online, fueling conspiracy theories and fomenting hate in the digital world that can spill over into the real world. She's backing a package of bills with state Sen. Anna Kaplan to bolster reporting requirements for misinformation and hate speech on social media sites.
Social media, of course, has been around for years. But the abuse and misinformation involving vaccines and elections, to name only a few subjects, could have world-shattering implications.
"Yes, we've had social media for years, but the problems have gotten so much worse, culminating in January 6, right?" Fahy said. "Where we saw violent hate speech matters, and some of the social media platforms are doing a better job of trying to monitor, reporting, late in the game, but other platforms are not."
Social media has effected things here in New York when it comes to public policy, too, Fahy said.
"First of all, I think this idea of violent hate speech has gone to a whole new level," she said. "It's always been there, but social media has helped amplify it. And also there's the whole case of misinformation. We know the Russian influence in our 2016 elections, the vaccine misinformation has just fueled vaccine hesitancy. So it really does have negative public policy implications."
But there's also the argument the internet is a bastion of free speech. While some people can argue it's the Wild West, others will say putting any restrictions will violate the spirit of what the internet is today.
Fahy says there are limits already put in place.
"Just as the courts have ruled, you cannot yell fire in a movie theater. It's the same here," she said.
Fahy hopes these bills can pass before the legislative session ends in the coming weeks.