Stewart's test for obscenity: "I know it when I see it", comes to mind when I read articles about Californias bot disclosure law. Specifically, I wonder what makes me a bot?

Under the statute, a “bot” means “an automated “online” account where all or substantially all of the actions or posts of that account are not the result of a person.” And “online” means “appearing on any public-facing Internet Web site, Web application, or digital application, including a social network or publication.”

National Law Review - Get All of Your Bots in a Row

I'm a computer programmer. And because of that I realize a significant portion of everything I do is automated. For example, I copy and pasted the previous paragraph. I did not manually type it. Heck, even as I type the rest of this, switches are opening and closing and software is manipulating pixels on my screen. Code is automatically adjusting the content I produce so I do things differently such as spelling adjusting correctly. Does this make me a bot in California's eyes? Why not? Can I talk about politics or products without disclosing that I didn't use a hammer and chisel to create my post?

Ultimately software is written by humans. Not a single spell check corrected word I've typed wasn't first typed by a real human at some point. It's just hard to give them credit for being the one that spelled adjusting correctly. Nothing gets online without going through some humans software.

As someone who understands that ultimately everything that happens on a computer is some humans fault, I'm disturbed to learn that California believes bots act on their own. I can't see how this law shouldn't inspire everyone to declare themselves a bot because of the way this law forbids you to use automation undisclosed. What am I missing? Where is the threshold? Is there any objective line here?

I know I'm not what they intended to curtail. This is a reaction to certain political events that I don't want to debate here. But it sounds like this law is written broadly enough that every poster is literally in violation. Is common sense enforcement the only thing protecting us from fines? Is hiding in the heard my only salvation?

If you think I'm not a bot simply because it sounds like I use social media the same way you do please consider the following:

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California residents are advised that several finite state automata were used in the creation, dissemination, and consumption of this post that could be considered by the state as constituting a Bot. Drinking bird toys might have been involved as well.

  • 1
    As a computer programmer, you should know better than to entertain these silly exercises. No reasonable person considers copy/pasting as automation. Also, anybody with minimal knowledge of the topic understands that automation does not strictly exclude human involvement, but rather it involves minimal or reduced human intervention.
    – A.fm.
    Jul 6 '19 at 4:46
  • @A.fm. As a computer programmer I happen to know that the systems required to copy and paste completely fulfill the definition of automation. My concern is that most Judges and Lawmakers don't happen to know that. I also think most citizens don't realize how much this infringes on their freedom of speech. A Judge now has the power to declare anyone online to be a bot if they use a computer or cellphone. Telling me I'm unreasonable is telling me to trust that the Judge will be reasonable. Why can't the law be reasonable? Jul 8 '19 at 5:09
  • 3
    No, copy and paste does not fulfill a definition of automation. Nothing in that article you linked to supports that claim, either. Any attempt to bring a case or any sort of serious discussion about copy/paste, spell check, or the like, as automation would be seen for what it is: an absurd exercise in intellectual gymnastics. Or, as some may call it, trolling.
    – A.fm.
    Jul 8 '19 at 23:20
  • @A.fm really? Why not? What exactly is it missing? Being an absurd example doesn't make it wrong. There should be a reason it's wrong. Jul 8 '19 at 23:51
  • Lol, Yes, really. And being an absurd example isn't what makes it wrong. What makes it wrong is not meeting any standard or definition of the term. Not that you've put any sort of definition forth or offered any reasoning for your assertion. I'm not going to set out to prove a negative, and an undefined one at that.
    – A.fm.
    Jul 9 '19 at 0:21

“I know it when I see it” is perfectly sensible law

The application of the law is not algorithmic, it involves discretion all the way down. The legislature established a general rule which will allow judges and jury’s to “know it when [they] see it” in individual cases.

The words the use take their common English meaning unless they are defined in the legislation or are legal terms of art. “Automation” means what a general member of the public would expect it to mean - not what a highly technical usage in computer science might be.

As cases are decided the line between what is and isn’t a “bot” will become clearer but if you dance near the edge you risk falling off.

As for your examples, they are all “straw men” and not worth engaging with because “I know it when I see it” too and they ain’t it.

  • 1
    "The legislature established a general rule which will allow judges and jury’s" It also has to allow potential defendants know, otherwise it is unconstitutionally vague. Also, the plural of "jury" is "juries". "As for your examples, they are all “straw men” " A straw man is a counter-argument directed toward an argument that wasn't made by one's opponent. That does not apply here. Jul 6 '19 at 18:54
  • @Acccumulation, there is an argument however in whether "potential defendants" can be expected to use their assumed common sense and tacit knowledge of our society in determining whether something is permissible or not.
    – Steve
    Jul 8 '19 at 15:21
  • If you consider "I know it when I see it" a perfectly sensible law I wont argue. But my actual question is whether that's precisely all there is to this law. Is it really devoid of any objective definition of automation? Jul 10 '19 at 13:18

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