Regulating Bot Speech

37 Pages Posted: 14 Aug 2018 Last revised: 16 Oct 2018

See all articles by Madeline Lamo

Madeline Lamo

University of Washington - School of Law

Ryan Calo

University of Washington - School of Law; Stanford University - Law School; Yale Law School

Date Written: July 16, 2018

Abstract

We live in a world of artificial speakers with real impact. So-called “bots” foment political strife, skew online discourse, and manipulate the marketplace. Concerns over bot speech has led prominent figures in the world of technology to call for regulations in response to the unique threats bots pose. Recently, legislators have begun to heed these calls, drafting laws that would require online bots to clearly indicate that they are not human.

This work is the first to consider how efforts to regulate bots might run afoul of the First Amendment. At first blush, requiring a bot to self-disclose raises little in the way of free speech concerns—it does not censor speech as such, nor does it unmask the identity of the person behind the automated account. However, a deeper analysis reveals several areas of First Amendment tension. Bot disclosure laws fit poorly with the state’s stated goals, risk unmasking anonymous speakers in the enforcement process, and create a scaffolding for censorship by private actors and other governments.

Ultimately bots represent a diverse and emerging medium of speech. Their use for mischief should not overshadow their novel capacity to inform, entertain, and critique. We conclude by urging society to proceed with caution in regulating bots, lest we inadvertently curtail a new, unfolding form of expression.

Keywords: bots, speech, robot law

Suggested Citation

Lamo, Madeline and Calo, Ryan, Regulating Bot Speech (July 16, 2018). UCLA Law Review, 2019. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3214572 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3214572

Madeline Lamo

University of Washington - School of Law ( email )

William H. Gates Hall
Box 353020
Seattle, WA 98105-3020
United States

Ryan Calo (Contact Author)

University of Washington - School of Law ( email )

William H. Gates Hall
Box 353020
Seattle, WA 98105-3020
United States

HOME PAGE: https://www.law.washington.edu/directory/profile.aspx?ID=713

Stanford University - Law School ( email )

559 Nathan Abbott Way
Stanford, CA 94305-8610
United States

Yale Law School ( email )

127 Wall Street
New Haven, CT 06511
United States

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