SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – A bill to require California schools to teach about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, “fake” news and the influence of social media on current events cleared its first hurdle in the state Assembly Wednesday.
Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, presented the bill, AB 838, to the Assembly Education Committee. It cleared the committee 4-1 and next heads to Appropriations Committee. Assemblyman Kevin Kiley, R-Rocklin, was the lone no vote, while Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, abstained.
Levine said a declassified intelligence briefing indicating Russian President Vladimir Putin sought to influence the American election by “denigrating Secretary (Hillary) Clinton and harming her electability” has led to “Russia’s interference in elections around the world as the new normal.”
“The 2016 presidential election was unlike any other in American history,” Levine said. “We must ensure students in California are aware of actual and potential threats of hostile foreign governments’ attempts to influence their thoughts and opinions about our nation’s leaders.”
Several members of the public voiced opposition to the bill. Christina Hildebrandt of Sacramento said she opposes the bill because it sets a bad precedence.
“How many other things are we going to have bills for that are going to say we have to put something in the schoolbooks for our children?” Hildebrandt asked. “I trust that the correct history will get put into our children’s books.”
Levine sees this bill as an important historical and educational opportunity.
“We considered how many things the Legislature has weighed in on, like President Obama being elected, or environmental education or the Chinese Exclusion Act,” Levine said. “I think this takes a much less intrusive role in education for our students than those other important things we did weigh in on.”
A 2016 study conducted by Dov Levine of Carnegie Mellon University found the United States has engaged in efforts to influence at least 81 foreign elections since World War II, and combined, the U.S. and Russia have worked to effect at least 117 elections nationwide.
At least two state Senate bills, SB 135 and SB 203, seek to add curriculum concerning “fake” news through media literacy education for California students in first through 12th grade.