Today Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) introduced legislation to curb addictive and deceptive techniques that tech giants use to exploit users. The Social Media Addiction Reduction Technology (SMART) Act would ban certain features that are designed to be addictive, would require choice parity for consent, and would give users the power to monitor their time spent on social media.
Senator Hawley said, “Big tech has embraced a business model of 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 that make it difficult to look away. This legislation will put an end to that and encourage true innovation by tech companies.”
Josh Golin, Executive Director of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, said, “Social media companies deploy a host of tactics designed to manipulate users in ways that undermines their wellbeing. We commend Senator Hawley for introducing legislation that would prohibit some of the most exploitative tactics, including those frequently deployed on children and teens.”
Social media is designed to exploit human psychology and brain physiology.
Social media is sold to us as a way to connect with distant friends and relatives. 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.
Tech giants exploit the science of addiction to put up as many obstacles as possible to keep us on their platforms. 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.
It’s working. Social media companies capture far more of our attention than they used to. Users now spend on average 2:08:00 a day on social media, up from 1:22:00 in 2012—a 56% increase.
What Senator Hawley’s bill does
- Bans infinite scroll, autoplay, and other addictive features on social media
- Infinite scroll, autoplay, and “achievements” such as “Snapstreak” exploit the science of addiction to make it difficult to leave a social media platform
- Exceptions include music playlists, social media predominantly designed to stream music, and “achievement” badges that substantially increase access to new services or functionality
- Social media platforms would have to include natural stopping points
- Requires choice parity for consent
- Companies would no longer be allowed to manipulate people into consenting by making it difficult to decline consent
- Companies would have to design “accept” and “decline” boxes using the same formats, fonts, and sizes
- Gives the FTC and HHS authority to ban other similar practices
- Rules would expire after 3 years unless ratified by Congress
- Gives users power to monitor and control their use time on social media
- Social media companies must provide an in-app tool that enables users to track the time they spend on social media across all devices and allows users to impose caps on the amount of time they spend