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Sen. Hawley unveils latest plan to take on big tech: Regulating 'addictive' social media features in order to limit Americans' time online
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Sen. Hawley unveils latest plan to take on big tech: Regulating 'addictive' social media features in order to limit Americans' time online

He wants to end business practices that 'exploit human psychology or brain physiology'

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) has unveiled legislation that aims to make it difficult for social media users to spend too much time scrolling through posts and regulate the business practices that encourage them to do so.

In a Tuesday morning news release, Hawley announced the Social Media Addiction Reduction Technology Act, or SMART Act, in order to push back against Silicon Valley practices that actively try to keep people hooked on social media.

In short, the bill would outlaw tech practices that get rid of "natural stopping points," such as reaching the end of a page and other things that "exploit human psychology or brain physiology." Other targeted practices include YouTube's autoplay feature and Snapchat's "Snapstreak" incentive.

The bill would also require social media companies to add features that allow people to set their own time limits if they decide to opt out of a prescribed 30-minute time limit on platforms as well as track their usage of various platforms.

"Big tech has embraced a business model of addiction," Hawley said in a 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."

Background information from the senator's office says that the legislation is in response to social media companies' efforts to "exploit the science of addiction" in order to keep users on their platforms for as long as possible.

"Natural stopping points, like the end of a page, naturally prompt users to choose whether to continue reading. But tech giants eliminate these mental opportunities by using structures like infinite scroll for newsfeeds and autoplay for videos," the news release claims.

According to a Global Web Index report from 2018, American social media users now spend 46 minutes more per day on social media than they did in 2012 — a 56 percent increase.

The measure has the support of the Campaign for a Commerical-Free Childhood, which advocates against the amount of commercial exposure that children face from marketers as a result of ubiquitous screen time. Josh Grolin, the group's executive director, issued a statement praising Hawley "for introducing legislation that would prohibit some of the most exploitative tactics, including those frequently deployed on children and teens."

Opponents of the idea see Hawley's proposal as simple government overreach. Hot Air's Taylor Millard called the proposal "a pernicious and detrimental bill all painted up in the notion of being 'for the children' when all it will do is destroy innovation, severely damage the economy, and rend freedom asunder."

Since taking office earlier this year, Hawley has shown himself to be one of Big Tech's biggest opponents on Capitol Hill. He previously introduced a bill that would strip social media platforms of federal liability protections if they engaged in viewpoint discrimination. He also called for antitrust investigations of tech companies ahead of the Department of Justice's announcement that it would do so. He also called for a third-party audit of Twitter back in April.

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