US Republican Senator Josh Hawley proposed a bill on Tuesday that aims to end ‘social media addiction’, targeting Big Tech companies such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube.
Hawley, who is the youngest senator in the US Congress at 39, said in a statement announcing the bill: “Big tech has embraced a business model of addiction. Too much of the ‘innovation’ in this space is designed not to create better products, but to capture more attention by using psychological tricks that make it difficult to look away.”
Hawley added: “This legislation will put an end to that and encourage true innovation by tech companies.”
The Social Media Addiction Reduction Technology (SMART) Act would prevent social media companies from using features that make them sticky, that is, more likely to keep users staying online for a longer time.
The bill, according to Hawley’s website, would ban infinite scroll, autoplay, and other “addictive” features on social media that “exploit the science of addiction to make it difficult to leave a social media platform”.
Hawley’s bill makes an exception for music playlists, streaming music sites and “achievement” badges that “substantially increase access to new services or functionality”.
Hawley accuses social media platforms of the elimination of natural stopping points, which he defines in the bill as: “The use of a process that, without the user expressly requesting additional content, loads and displays more content into a content feed than the typical user scrolls through in three minutes.”
This means that Facebook or Instagram feeds that scroll infinitely would be outlawed.
Hawley believes it is necessary to include “natural stopping points” as well as to add accept/decline boxes in the same font, size and format as the rest of the page to allow for “choice parity” for consent.
SMART also foresees social media companies providing an “in-app tool that enables users to track the time they spend on social media across all devices” as well as one that “allows users to impose caps on the amount of time they spend”.
The bill additionally gives the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Health and Human Services (HHS) the “authority to ban other similar practices”. The FTC is a government agency whose aim is “protecting consumers and competition by preventing anticompetitive, deceptive, and unfair business practices through law enforcement, advocacy, and education without unduly burdening legitimate business activity” while the HSS aims to “enhance and protect the health and well-being of all Americans”.
Hawley is no stranger to fighting Big Tech; he questioned Google executives during Congressional hearings about the company’s data collection policies and offered an update to the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act that had bipartisan support in the Senate, as reported by the Washington Post.
He recently tweeted his disdain about the $5bn fine on Facebook, calling it “disappointing”.
He also tweeted about his own SMART bill, calling on social media users to demand “more and better from Silicon Valley”.
The tweet’s sentiments echo an op-ed Hawley penned for USA Today in May questioning the merits of what social media had done for society.
“But maybe social media’s innovations do our country more harm than good,” he wrote. “Maybe social media is best understood as a parasite on productive investment, on meaningful relationships, on a healthy society.”
According to the Hill, Hawley’s SMART bill does not have any co-sponsors yet.