By James Rogers
Published July 30, 2019
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) has announced legislation designed to curb social media addiction and target “deceptive techniques” that tech giants such as Facebook, YouTube and Instagram use to exploit users.
The Missouri senator’s bill specifically takes aim at features of social media that are designed to be addictive, according to a statement released Tuesday. The Social Media Addiction Reduction Technology (SMART) Act would ban features such as infinite scroll and autoplay on social media as well as “achievements” such as Snapchat’s “Snapstreak.”
A Snapstreak occurs when two Snapchat friends have snapped each other within 24 hours for more than three consecutive days. Hawley argues that the feature, like the others cited, exploit the science of addiction to make it difficult to leave social media platforms.
The legislation makes exceptions for music playlists, social media that is predominantly designed to stream music (which would likely include Apple Music and Spotify), and “achievement” badges that substantially increase access to new services or functionality.
Fox News has reached out to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and Snapchat with a request for comment on this story. Twitter and YouTube declined to comment.
Internet Association President and CEO Michael Beckerman responded in a statement: “Internet companies invest in programs, partnerships, policies, controls, and resources to promote healthy online experiences, and there are a wealth of existing tools that allow users to make choices about how they engage online. Policy proposals must be evidence-based, which is why the internet industry supports the CAMRA [Children and Media Research Advancement] Act. Funding for independent scientific research is critical to better understand the impact of screen time and identify more ways to enhance people’s well-being on and offline.”
The CAMRA Act would spearhead research on the effects of technology on children's development. Google, Facebook, Twitter and Snap Inc. are members of the Internet Association.
Video sharing platform YouTube does offer a number of features designed around users' "digital wellbeing," such as the ability to set reminders to take a break from watching videos.
The bill defines social media platforms as primarily serving “as a medium for users to interact with content generated by other third-party users of the medium,” and as enabling users “to create accounts or profiles specific to the medium or to import profiles from another medium.”
Hawley’s bill would also require social media companies to provide choice parity for consent. This means that that social media platforms “would no longer be allowed to manipulate people into consenting by making it difficult to decline consent,” according to his statement. For example, companies would have to design “accept” and “decline” boxes using the same formats, fonts, and sizes.
The senator also wants to give the FTC and the United States Department of Health and Human Services the authority to ban other similar practices.
Additionally, Hawley wants to give users the power to monitor their use on social media with social media companies providing in-app tools that would let users to track the time they spend on platforms across all devices. This could also be used to impose caps on the amount of time users spend on social media.
“Big tech has embraced a business model of addiction,” Hawley said, in the statement. “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. This legislation will put an end to that and encourage true innovation by tech companies.”
Hawley, a high-profile critic of Big Tech, recently announced legislation that would remove tech titans’ protection from liability for third-party content on their platforms.
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