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Colorado bill tasking attorney general to study online 'misinformation' sparks First Amendment debate

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By Abhishek Published 2 months ago 3 min read
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Colorado bill tasking attorney general to study online 'misinformation' sparks First Amendment debate
Photo by Siora Photography on Unsplash

A proposal that allocates $150,000 to the Colorado Attorney General's Office to study the spread of "misinformation" or "disinformation" online sparked a spirited debate about the parameters of free speech, what role the government should play in counteracting it, and questions about the legislation's price tag, given the state's tight budget.

Under Senate Bill 084, which the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced on Thursday by a vote of 3-2, the state's attorney general would be responsible for establishing initiatives promoting "respectful engagement and discourse" and developing ways to facilitate "productive and honest conversations regarding state and nationwide issues to help people find common ground.

The attorney general would also be tasked with conducting a study on how the internet and other media channels are used to share and spread "misinformation." The office would be required to present the study's findings to the legislative body by March 1, 2025, and lawmakers would decide whether to pursue legislation based on those findings.

During discussions, Colorado Springs Republican Bob Gardner and Committee Chair Sen. Julie Gonzales, D- Denver, both expressed worries about the bill's price tag — $150,000.

"I think in the context of some of the fiscal challenges that our state is navigating, in terms of the appropriation to this bill, I may have concerns," Gonzales said.

Ultimately, Gonzales said she agrees with the policy and voted with her two fellow Democrats to move the bill to the appropriations panel. The judiciary committee's two Republicans voted against the bill.

In outlining the need for the study, bill sponsor Sen. Lisa Cutter, a Democrat from Evergreen, said that "foreign entities have come into the U.S. and worked really hard to divide us through perpetuating deliberate disinformation."

I believe deeply in the First Amendment and its protections for individuals to be able to speak their minds and I've run several bills along those lines, so it's something I value greatly," she said. "But what we're concerned with in this bill is studying what effects this widely perpetuated misinformation and effects they're having on our social media and our discourse."

Cutter defined "misinformation" as unintentionally false or inaccurate information, while "disinformation" is deliberately intended to mislead.

While Cutter maintained that the bill's intent is not to infringe on anyone's First Amendment rights, several witnesses speaking in opposition said that it would.

"This bill is in direct conflict with the U.S. Constitution and the right to free speech," said Amanda Monk of Yuma County. "Freedom of speech is a foundation of a self-governing nation. Ideas that go unopposed by differing opinions become weak and ineffective instead of being strengthened by competing ideas. If speech is stifled and muted, a society quickly loses its ability to resolve its problems."

Marla Fernandez, a paralegal who specializes Constitutional law, echoed Monk's apprehensions, calling the bill "an assault on our freedom of speech and expression."

While the intentions behind the bill may seem noble, the implications are far-reaching and dangerous," she said. "It seeks to dictate what information is permissible, what opinions are acceptable, and what conversations are appropriate. Such heavy-handed government intervention has no place in a society governed by the rule of law."

Erin Meschke, a Boulder resident, added that the bill is redundant.

"I think it is imperative that we not fund more studies on things we kind of already know the answers to," she said.

Gardner also suggested the study is unnecessary.

"I pick up the Wall Street Journal every day and I'd be hard-pressed to not find something in there every day about (efforts to combat misinformation)," he said. "Don't we already have a good deal of information and aren't there numerous organizations out there studying everything in this bill such that our efforts might be redundant.

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  • Test2 months ago

    I'm a fan of this article; it's written well and packed with useful information.

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