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Now Law: Zwicker & Benson “Bot” Measure to Prohibit Misleading Communication Involving Purchases, Elections

Legislation Aims to Protect New Jersey Residents 

Looking to strike a balance between innovation, transparency and consumer protection, a bill prohibiting the use of an online “bot” to communicate or interact for the purpose of misleading a person during a purchase, or to influence the outcome of an election, was signed into law by the Governor on Tuesday.

Now law, the legislation (A-4563) sponsored by Assembly members Andrew Zwicker and Daniel Benson protects the public from bad actors who would utilize bots to spread misinformation, a problem not limited to the state of New Jersey.

“The spreading of misinformation used to influence elections or otherwise mislead consumers is a real and credible threat to our democracy and way of life,” said Assemblyman Zwicker (D-Somerset, Mercer, Middlesex, Hunterdon). “Making sure that New Jerseyans know whether they are interacting with an actual person or a computer helps keep people informed and gives them one more layer of protection against people or entities who may have malicious intent.”

As defined under this new law, a ‘bot’ is an automated online account where most of its posts are not operated by a person.

“Living in an era of rapid online social technological change has made it increasingly more difficult to discern false information from true information,” said Assemblyman Benson (D-Mercer, Middlesex). “Enacting this legislation helps us better protect people who might otherwise be unsuspecting of the threats posed by bots.”

A person who violates the provisions of this law will be liable for a civil penalty of $2,500 for the first offense, $5,000 for the second offense, and $10,000 for each subsequent offense. If the individual discloses that it is, or is using, a bot, liabilities would not be applicable. The disclosure would need to be clear, conspicuous and reasonably designed.

According to a recent Pew Research Center poll, of the 66 percent of Americans who report familiarity with social media bots, 80 percent think they are used for mischievous activities. Another 66 percent view social media bots as negatively affecting Americans’ thoughts about current affairs.

The law takes effect 180 days after the date of enactment.