California Assemblyman Ed Chau (Democrat, Monterey Park) appears to be finally running into opposition over one of the most chilling, anti-speech pieces of recent years. Chau is trying to criminalize “fake news” and in the process would curtail free speech for everyone from parodies to comedies to opinion writers. He is the latest example of how some of the greatest threats to free speech around the Western world today appears to be coming from the left of the political spectrum from speech restrictions on campuses to new criminal laws on inciteful or intimidating speech.
Chau has pulled his bill shortly before a hearing after long ignoring the outcry for civil libertarians that he was threatening core free speech value with his poorly drafted and poorly conceived measure.
Known as the California Political Cyberfraud Abatement Act, Chau heralded his efforts as “an important step forward in the fight against ‘fake news’ and deceptive campaign tactics.” The Act would make it “unlawful for a person to knowingly and willingly make, publish or circulate on an Internet Web site, or cause to be made, published, or circulated in any writing posted on an Internet Web site, a false or deceptive statement designed to influence” an election. The wording is shockingly broad and ill-defined. It is would impact a great variety of opinions and parodies. What Chau considers “deceptive” or influential on an election is anyone’s guess. Hyperbole could then be prosecuted as well as Onion-like publications.
Surprisingly, Chau is a lawyer who appears to have missed basic constitutional law as a course at Southwestern University School of Law.
As ambiguous as his law may have been, one thing is clear: constituents should think very hard about their decision to return Chau to the state legislature after the introduction of such a dangerous and reckless piece of legislation. Politicians have a host of areas that they can use to pander to voters, but they should at least leave our core freedoms alone. Chau’s “important step forward” was in fact a huge step back to criminalized speech and government enforcement of speech limitations. To proudly proclaim such an anti-speech measure raises serious questions of Chau’s commitment to basic constitutional values.