For the public health crisis it threatens to create by further criminalizing drug-related content online, California’s AB 1800 receives this year’s award for Worst for Public Safety.

AB 1800 is a relatively straightforward bill. Totaling less than 400 words, the bill creates new penalties, including large fines and jail time, for social media companies that host any content offering controlled substances for sale. 

Because of the extreme liability (and jail time) that AB 1800 threatens social media companies with, you can be sure that online platforms will work overtime to remove any content that could be perceived as an online drug sale. There’s also no safe harbor provision in the bill for companies that work diligently to remove controlled substance sales or meet a baseline of content moderation, so it’s a near certainty that platforms will over-moderate in an effort to take down any possible post that comes close to controlled substances.

There’s the additional challenge that controlled substance sales online often use coded language, as the DEA has observed, likely forcing social media platforms to expand the scope of content takedowns in order to avoid hosting any possible sales.

In cases where a law incentivizes over-moderation, many legitimate posts are also taken down simply for being adjacent to criminalized content. That’s the story behind SESTA/FOSTA, a 2018 law aimed at eliminating sex trafficking online, but which ended up harming sex workers by shutting down their online businesses. Congress passed SESTA/FOSTA to criminalize non-consensual sex trafficking content, but to ensure compliance, online platforms also took down content posted by independent sex workers safely supporting themselves.

By holding platforms liable for drug sales, AB 1800 also poses a threat to legitimate recovery and healthcare content, including online resources for drug testing and harm reduction, and communities dedicated to helping people overcome addiction.

These failures shouldn’t be taken lightly. As America faces a drug crisis of historic proportions, it’s unlikely that new criminal penalties for drug sales online will stop drug sales. But making drug testing and addiction recovery harder to find online, and driving supportive communities further into the recesses of the Internet will have an actively harmful impact.