A new law is trying to force movie information website IMDb to remove actors’ ages if requested — a move designed to tackle age discrimination in Hollywood, but which activists fear could have dangerous consequences for freedom of speech.
It’s an attempt to stop age discrimination within the movie industry by giving actors a way to get their age and birthday removed from the popular IMDb and other sites if they feel the need to do so.
“Even though it is against both federal and state law, age discrimination persists in the entertainment industry,” said Majority Leader Ian Calderon. “AB 1687 provides the necessary tools to remove age information from online profiles on employment referral websites to help prevent this type of discrimination.”
However, some are raising concerns about what the law means for free speech. Michael Beckerman, CEO of industry body Internet Association, wrote in a column for Hollywood Reporter that “requiring the removal of factually accurate age information across websites suppresses free speech. This is not a question of preventing salacious rumours; rather it is about the right to present basic facts that live in the public domain. Displaying such information isn’t a form of discrimination, and internet companies should not be punished for how people use public data.”
He added: “If the goal is to prevent discrimination by limiting information, should lawmakers force redactions from any website, even Wikipedia?”
In short: IMDb (and others) are displaying constitutionally protected facts, and removing them — for whatever reason — would set a dangerous precedent.
Not everyone buys this argument. Gabrielle Carteris, president of actors’ union SAG-AFTRA, wrote that “opponents of AB 1687 say it could have a chilling effect on free speech. This is highly doubtful as the bill seeks a narrowly tailored fix that applies only to subscription-based entertainment websites.”
Given what’s at stake here — alleged violations of a basic constitutional right on the one hand, and noble efforts to stamp out widespread discrimination on the other — it may well take a legal challenge to settle the debate for good.