Tuesday, September 26, 2023

GOP Sen. Overreaches w/ Gov’t Attempt to Cure Social Media ‘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…’

GOP Sen. Aims to Break Online Addiction w/ Bans on Snap Streaks, Infinite Scrolling 2
LoboStudioHamburg (CC) via Flickr

(Ben Sellers, Liberty Headlines) A new bill being pitched in the Senate could change the way people interact with sites like Facebook, Twitter and the teen-popular Snapchat.

While its aim is to help empower users to break free of their social media addictions, some fear that the overreaching legislation could create a cure worse than the disease.

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., introduced the legislation, which he hoped would help curb the manipulative practices tech companies have developed to keep users logged on.

“Big tech has embraced a business model of addiction,” Hawley said in a press statement on Tuesday.

“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,” he said.

Among the regulations contained in Hawley’s Social Media Addiction Reduction Technology (SMART) Act would be an end to infinite-scrolling interfaces and auto-playing videos.

The bill also proposes a ban on rewards-based features like “streaks,” popular on the photo-sharing Snapchat app, which offer users a special badge for continuously engaging with others.

The proposed legislation additionally would force sites to include tools that track how long users are online with timers and pop-up notifications.

However, some—such as free-market advocate Shoshana Weismann—worry that the proposals go too far in micromanaging or restricting online behavior.

“Unfortunately, policymakers are too confident that simply throwing more government at the problems—whatever those may be—will fix them, and are proposing a number of solutions that are well-intended but largely ill-conceived,” Weismann wrote in an article recently published by technology journal The New Atlantis.

The new regulations might have widespread implications beyond the practices of leading social media sites, instead empowering the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general to target or shut down any website, simply for encouraging user-engagement.

“[O]perators of innumerable websites collect personal data, and many of them probably wouldn’t realize that the legislation might apply to them,” Weismann wrote about an earlier piece of similar legislation proposed in the Senate. “In fact, it is not even clear which cases this legislation would apply to.”

Moreover, what some see as unsavory trade practices, others may argue is simply a reflection of the networks’ success in appealing to users, calling into question the government’s authority to regulate time they spend scrolling.

In a tweet thread criticizing Hawley’s new bill, Weissmann argued that social media was a form of entertainment and not a necessity that warranted government intervention.

She also criticized the overly invasive legislation for delving into clearly personal areas like online dating services.

Hawley, however, said the aim was simply to give users more of a choice in the face of the “obstacles” that the sites put up to prevent people from unplugging.

“Social media is sold to us as a way to connect with distant friends and relatives,” he said in his press release. “But tech giants don’t stop there. They design platforms with a bottom-line goal in mind: Capture as much of our attention as possible and immediately sell that attention to advertisers.”

In support of his proposals, Hawley noted that over the past seven years there has been a 56 percent increase in the time users spend on social networks, up from an hour and 22 minutes in 2012 to two hours and eight minutes currently, according to a 2018 report from GlobalWebIndex.

GOP Senate Candidate Takes on Google as Attorney General
Josh Hawley/IMAGE: Fox Business via YouTube

Moreover, networks such as Snapchat and video-sharing platform TikTok are often targeted toward younger audiences who are unprepared to make informed choices about their social-media usage—leaving them vulnerable to threats like surreptitious data mining and online predators.

“Social media companies deploy a host of tactics designed to manipulate users in ways that undermine their well-being,” said Josh Golin, executive director of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.

“We commend Senator Hawley for introducing legislation that would prohibit some of the most exploitative tactics, including those frequently deployed on children and teens,” Golin said.

The bill’s proposal comes on the heels of a recent Pew Research Center survey that revealed, nationwide, a decline in perceptions and attitudes about social networks.

Only half of Americans now see them as having a positive impact, while a third of Americans see a predominately negative impact.

The companies also face increasing scrutiny and regulation on a variety of fronts—including accusations from conservatives, such as Sen. Ted Cruz, that they have engaged in blatantly biased practices to suppress and censor dissenting voices.

The companies themselves claim it is merely an effort to maintain their subjective community standards, block hate speech and preserve election integrity.

As with political censorship, critics of Hawley’s proposal said any efforts to rein in the way users interact with social media would lead lawmakers down a slippery slope.

Copyright 2023. No part of this site may be reproduced in whole or in part in any manner without the permission of the copyright owner. To inquire about licensing content, use the contact form at https://headlineusa.com/advertising.
- Advertisement -