Senator Josh Hawley has become the biggest thorn in the side of social media with a series of tough Senate hearings and pro-regulation bills aimed at curtailing their influence on the American public.
His strategy appears to be to use the full weight of government to regulate their influence into non-existence. His latest strategy? Effectively banning social media innovation by labeling several features as “addicting” in a sweeping new legislative ban.
Big Tech has embraced addiction as a business model. Their ‘innovation’ isn't designed to create better products, but to capture attention by using psychological tricks that make it impossible to look away. Time to expect more & better from Silicon Valley https://t.co/AYFdntu595
— Josh Hawley (@HawleyMO) July 30, 2019
Hawley’s Social Media Addiction Reduction Technology (SMART) Act would make it illegal for social media platforms to hook users by offering them more content than they requested in order to get them to continue on their respective platforms.
The bill takes aim at practices specifically employed by the country’s top social networking sites – YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat.
For example, it would ban YouTube’s “autoplay” feature, which loads up new videos for users automatically; Facebook and Twitter’s “infinite scroll,” which allows users to continue scrolling through their homepages without limit; and Snapchat’s “streaks,” which reward users for continuing to send photos to their friends.
More troubling than being so very pro-regulation is the fact that Hawley wants to empower the already overly-powerful executive branch through this bill.
Hawley’s legislation would empower the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and state attorneys to take action against companies that did not remove “addictive” features within a few months.
It would also allow the FTC and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to jointly write new rules aimed at getting ahead of new “deceptive” tactics, anticipating that there will be new innovations in technology that the bill doesn’t cover.
Believe me when I say that I am concerned with the addictive qualities of social media. I work with teenagers every day, and their attention to SnapChat and Instagram, in particular, is worrisome. But what Hawley is doing here is effectively banning social media from attempting to innovate their products.
The same business models that push for featured to make you spend more time on their apps are the ones that lead to new foods, drinks, and other products. Sugar is addictive. Nicotine is addictive. Should we ban companies from developing new products with them inside because they will cause customers to crave them more?
Have we forgotten how well prohibition worked in the United States?
Let no one doubt that Hawley’s heart is in the right place. Social media is very much addicting and there needs to be a cultural conversation on the topic. But coming in waving Big Government around has never been a good solution, and it is definitely not a conservative solution. That is something that we would expect the nanny statists in the Democratic Party to do.
It’s not a good idea, and we need to stop and talk about this before we just start throwing around legislation on the matter.