- US Senator Josh Hawley has introduced a new bill intended to help protect social media users from forming addictive habits.
- The Social Media Addiction Reduction Technology Act would prevent social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, or Snapchat from using features that automatically generate an endless stream of content.
- The bill would also require social media companies to add an automatic time limit of 30 minutes per day for all users (though users could change it), and inform users of how much time they have spent on the platform every 30 minutes.
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US Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) has introduced a new bill intended intended to regulate the way that users interact with social media, the latest in a series of proposed legislation aimed at major tech companies.
The Social Media Addiction Reduction Technology Act would fundamentally change the way that social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Snapchat engage with users, and call greater attention to how much time users are spending on each platform.
“The business model for many internet companies, especially social media companies, is to capture as much of their users’ attention as possible,” reads the bill, in part. “To achieve this end, some of the internet companies design their platforms and services to exploit brain physiology and human psychology. By exploiting psychological and physiological vulnerabilities, these design choices interfere with the free choice of users.”
If enacted into law, the bill would require social media companies to limit the amount of automatically generated content shown to users, and prevent videos from automatically playing without user approval. Facebook and Twitter can surface a nearly endless stream of content to users as they scroll through their timeline or pursue trending topics. These platforms also allow videos to start playing automatically as soon as a user scrolls by.
Senator Hawley: “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.”
— Senator Hawley Press Office (@SenHawleyPress) July 30, 2019
YouTube has also been criticized for its use of autoplay. After a user watches a video, the platform will continually surface other videos related to the user’s original choice. However, reports have indicated that autoplay can also lead users to increasingly controversial or radical videos, as the algorithm selects new video to watch.
Earlier this year The Verge reported that watching certain videos featuring children would lead users to multiple videos featuring moments of children involving nudity or other compromising activities that could be deemed as sexual.
Read more: Facebook and YouTube could be held responsible for the toxic swamp of content on their platforms under an explosive new bill
Along with new restrictions on how content is displayed, the Social Media Addiction Reduction Technology Act would require social media companies to introduce daily and weekly time limits. The bill calls for an automatic time limit of 30 minutes per day, though users would be able to adjust the amount of time for themselves. However, social media platforms would also be required to show a notification telling the user how much time they’ve spent on the platform that day, displayed at least once every half hour.
The Social Media Addiction Reduction Technology Act would also prevent social media companies from rewarding users for prolonged engagement with their platforms. For example, Snapchat promotes user Snapstreaks, which track how many days in a row a user has sent pictures to the same person. YouTube awards users with badges for being a paid subscriber to certain channels for six months or more, with badges becoming more rare as their time as a paid subscriber increases.
Enforcement of the bill would fall under the purview of the Federal Trade Commission and the Secretary of Health and Human Services. The FTC would be required to provide a report on internet addiction and how social media affects psychology every three years. If approved, the bill would allow the commission to fine social media companies for non-compliance as well.
Sen. Hawley has been vocal in his criticism of social media and major technology companies since taking office at the start of the year. The Republican senator has repeatedly accused social media and video games of using addiction to fuel engagement. The Social Media Addiction Reduction Technology Act does not share any co-sponsors and hasn’t reached the committee stage yet.
SEE ALSO: Facebook and YouTube could be held responsible for the toxic swamp of content on their platforms under an explosive new bill
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