Senator Josh Hawley, who is a vocal critic of social media, is back at it again. He has now proposed a bill called the Social Media Addiction Reduction Technology (SMART) Act that will help users break away from the addictive loop of social networking websites.
Under the new legislation, features that encourage the addictive behavior will have to be removed, such as infinite scrolling, autoplay videos, and so-called achievements like Snapchat’s Snapstreak that make it difficult to stay away from a social media platform for more than a certain amount of time.
Basically, these platforms will be required to include natural stopping points, just how a page has an end, so that users will not be lured into spending a significant amount of time online. The exception to this rule will be music streaming platforms and achievement-focused activities that actually reward users with new functionality or services.
Social networking companies will have to make it easier for users to provide their consent and the options will have to be presented in a neutral way so that no option is hidden using smaller fonts, for instance, and no option is highlighted. Moreover, there must be no preselected option and it should be totally up to the users to make the selection they want.
Once the bill is made into an act, which seems very unlikely by the way, social media companies will be under an obligation to make their interfaces more user friendly and allow users to set time limits that span across all the devices they use so that, by default, they will spend no more than 30 minutes a day on a certain platform. The time limit can be adjusted or removed by users if they want. For reference, a typical user now spends more than two hours a day on social networking websites.
Senator Hawley says that big tech thrives on a business model of addiction and most of the innovation is aimed at increasing revenue and not at creating better products. He added that social media companies employ psychological tricks to make it difficult for users to look away.
The proposed legislation will discourage this behavior and motivate companies to come out with truly innovative products. Under this bill, the FTC and HHS will also be authorized to outlaw other similar practices and these rules will expire after three years unless they are ratified by Congress.
Hawley has previously introduced bills related to numerous online issues such as data tracking, children’s privacy, and paid loot boxes but most of them haven’t gone into effect. That’s why it’s unlikely that the SMART Act will be passed by both sides of the Congress.
In recent times, tech companies like Apple, Facebook, and Google have introduced apps and tools that can help people track the amount of time they spend online but it’s too early to say if they are having any real effect on the online behavior of consumers.
The Internet Association has criticized the SMART Act as the trade group believes that it is not based on evidence. The consortium further argues that internet companies have invested in various programs and controls to ensure users have healthy experiences online and that there are already many tools available which can help users make informed choices about how they spend their time online.