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Breaking News Alert This Week In Lawfare Land: What Happens Next?

Josh Hawley’s New Tech Bill Would Make The Government America’s Mom

People can be their own monitors of media time, not the government.


Freshman Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) introduced a bill Tuesday to prohibit social media companies from using “addictive” features on their platforms. The Social Media Addiction Reduction Technology Act (SMART) would make it illegal for companies to use features that hook users to their websites.

Features eliminated by this bill would include “autoplay” on YouTube, which automatically plays new videos for users, and “infinite scroll” on Facebook and Twitter, which allows users unlimited scrolling on their homepage.

“Big Tech has embraced addiction as a business model,” Hawley tweeted Monday. “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.”

In his first year in office, Hawley has established a history of actions directed at Big Tech. With SMART, Hawley is taking new measures in his battle with Silicon Valley. In his bill, Hawley accuses social media companies of “using practices that exploit human psychology or brain physiology to substantially impede freedom of choice.”

SMART would require companies to add new features reminding users how much time they have been online and even to limit their time. If the bill becomes law, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and state attorneys will be able to take action against companies that do not comply with SMART.

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

Government restrictions should raise flags initially. Of course, preventing accidental exposure to obscene materials is appropriate. But the line for government interference in homes must be carefully thought through.

SMART would make the government America’s mom. Options to monitor personal screen time are already available. Apple, for example, has an app called “Screen Time” so users “can access real-time reports about how much time you spend on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch, and set limits for what you want to manage.” Microsoft has a similar system to monitor and limit time on devices.

Hawley raises a significant point, however, that social media features such as Snapchat’s “streaks,” which rewards users for consistent daily interaction with others on the app, are close to, if not entirely, addictive. Social media raises many health concerns, including isolation and depression.

Yet it is important to consider other sources of aid for those addicted to social media than government restrictions. Is social media as addictive and harmful as Oxycontin, requiring similar levels of government intervention?

The negative effects of social media are indeed worrisome, but it is also problematic for the government to mandate what is good for America. People should strive to be better on their own and in community without the government’s help.