Back in the early summer, it appeared that House Bill 700, a bill designed to restrict political speech on the Internet, was going to advance in the General Assembly. At the time, I noted why it was a bad bill:
It would create new barriers to entry in the political process for political novices and challengers who wish to promote their political speech online while doing little to stop Internet trolls (people or groups who sow discord through divisive online messages) and dark money groups. The bill also imposes restrictions on speech on a form of communication that is fundamentally different than more one-way channels of communication such as TV or radio.
After a couple of hearings, leaders of the House Elections and Ethics Law Committee quietly dropped it.
Now, with the current session nearly over, Melissa Kromm, the lobbyist who spearheaded the effort to get H700 passed, is giving it another go with an editorial in the News and Observer. Other than noting a recent fake Facebook ad placed by Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign, she offers nothing new.
Indeed, H700 still has the same flaws it had last July:
- It would still protect incumbents by erecting barriers to entry for challengers and political novices to digital communications.
- It would still not stop Russian trolls or impede spending from outside groups.
- It still fails to recognize the value of anonymity in political speech that the Founders knew since the time of debates over ratification of the Constitution and before.
- It still does not account for the unique nature of social media communications, in which people are simultaneously consumers and producers of content.
In short, H700 is still a bad bill.