California lawmakers are targeting doctors and websites that promote misinformation about COVID-19 in the latest group of bills introduced by a group of Democrats who are pushing for stronger vaccination laws in the state.
Assembly Bill 2098 by Assemblyman Evan Low (D-San Jose) would make it easier for the Medical Board of California to discipline physicians who promote COVID-19 misinformation by classifying it as unprofessional conduct. Low said the bill would make it clear that lawmakers want the state’s troubled medical council to go after doctors who sell inaccurate information about coronavirus.
Legislators have expressed frustration over the medical board’s slow complaint-driven process, which has allowed a handful of doctors in the state to advance conspiracy theories and treatments throughout the pandemic.
“The dissemination of misinformation – of inaccurate COVID-19 information – is contrary to responsibility [of doctors] and threatens to further erode public confidence in the medical profession and put all patients at risk, ”Low said on Tuesday.
Nick Sawyer, an emergency room physician who set up a group called No License for Disinformation, said the bill would affect a small group of doctors who spread blatantly inaccurate and extreme misinformation that a doctor knows is false or that they should know is false. given their medical education.
“This is not a call for a monitoring of free speech. This is a call to protect the public from dangerous misinformation that patients parrot back to us in our emergency rooms every day,” Sawyer said.
Senate Bill 1018 by Senator Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) would require online platforms like Facebook to publicly reveal how their algorithms work and share data for research purposes to shed more light on how misinformation is spread. The bill is modeled after federal law requiring social media platforms to publicly disclose their corporate policies, key metrics, and data to combat online hatred, disinformation, extremism, harassment, and foreign interference.
“Ideally, we would have a national solution to this. However, we can not wait, ”said Pan. “Transparency allows the public to make informed decisions, and lawmakers and researchers need the information needed so that we can hold online platforms accountable and also set standards.”
Nathaniel Persily, director of the Cyber Policy Center at Stanford University, said Pan’s bill would help balance the “information ecosystem” currently controlled by a handful of companies.
“The bottom line here is that we can not live in a world where Facebook and Google know everything about us and we know nothing about them,” Persily said. “These great information monopolies have really lost the right to secrecy.”
Both bills were tabled Monday, but many of the details that describe how they will regulate online platforms and strengthen disciplinary action against doctors who spread misinformation have not yet been set out in the legislation.
The bills were tabled as part of a larger effort by a group of Democratic lawmakers, who this year formed a vaccine working group to strengthen vaccination laws. The legislation has set in motion one controversial debate over how far the state must go to pressure unvaccinated residents to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Assembly Bill 1993 by Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland) wanted require that employees and independent contractors be vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition of employment, unless they have a dispensation based on a medical condition, disability, or religious belief.
Assembly Act 1797 by Assemblyman Akilah Weber (D-San Diego) would make it easier for California school officials to check student vaccination records by expanding access to a state-wide immunization database. Senate Bill 866 by Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) would allow children aged 12 and over must be vaccinated without parental consent. And so would the SB 871 from Pan require the COVID-19 vaccine for all school children in the state.