GOP senator introduces bill banning ‘addictive’ social media features

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), a freshman who has emerged as a top Republican critic of major technology companies in Congress, on Tuesday will introduce a bill banning social media companies from building “addictive” features into their products.

Hawley’s Social Media Addiction Reduction Technology 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.

{mosads}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.

It would also require the companies to build “user-friendly” interfaces, with features allowing users to limit the amount of time they spend on the platform and offering reminders how much time they’ve spent perusing the site.

“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.”

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.

The addictive features targeted by Hawley’s legislation can be considered as a form of “dark patterns,” or design features that nudge users into certain behavior without their explicit knowledge.

The bill has already drawn backlash from Silicon Valley. The Internet Association, a trade group representing a the top web companies, in a statement said tech companies regularly invest in tools to “promote healthy online experiences.”

“There are a wealth of existing tools that allow users to make choices about how they engage online,” IA President and CEO Michael Beckerman said in a statement.

Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) in April introduced legislation prohibiting the largest online platforms — like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube — from using dark patterns by giving the FTC more jurisdiction over the issue. 

Hawley has introduced an expansive array of tech-related bills during this Congress, addressing issues from children’s online privacy to video game design. While the bulk of this legislation has not seen significant movement beyond gathering a few bipartisan co-sponsors, Hawley has attracted an army of aggressive critics ranging from Silicon Valley trade groups to free market conservatives in Washington.

Hawley in a May op-ed even suggested that Americans may be better off without social media entirely. 

“This is a digital drug,” he wrote. “And the addiction is the point.”

The Missouri Republican caused his biggest splash earlier this year when he introduced a bill that would make alterations tech’s legal shield, known as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Hawley’s Section 230 bill, responding to accusations from conservatives that Big Tech is biased against right-wing perspectives, would require the FTC to audit the country’s largest tech companies to ensure they are not censoring political perspectives.

Hawley’s latest social media legislation does not yet have any co-sponsors.

Updated 5:14 P.M.

Tags Deb Fischer Josh Hawley Mark Warner

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