Goodbye Autoplay: New Bill Aims To Curb Social Media Addiction

By Lindsey Weedston 08/05/19

The bill aims to ban potentially addictive features such as the “infinite scroll” and “autoplay.”

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person with social media addiction using cellphone
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Republican Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri recently introduced a bill that’s meant to address social media features that he believes are designed to make the platforms addictive.

The bill, named the Social Media Addiction Reduction Technology (SMART) Act, would ban established features of the most popular social media platform such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Snapchat, claiming that these features “exploit human psychology or brain physiology to substantially impede freedom of choice.”

Infinite Scoll & Autoplay

Features targeted in this bill include the “infinite scroll” that has been part of Facebook and Twitter for years and which continuously loads new content as the user scrolls down, as well as YouTube’s “autoplay” that loads a new video as soon as one has finished. Additionally, it addresses Snapchat’s “streaks” that rewards users for sending more and more photos to their friends in a row.

Hawley argues that these features are designed to be addictive, keeping users glued to their screens for as long as possible. 

“Big tech has embraced a business model of addiction,” he 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. This legislation will put an end to that and encourage true innovation by tech companies.”

Critics Speak Out

The freshman senator has made a name for himself as a leading critic of major technology companies, and this bill has some major opposition from organizations like the trade group known as the Internet Association (IA) and others from Silicon Valley as well as free market conservatives, according to The Hill.

“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 opposing the SMART Act.

However, Hawley argues that the options to turn off potentially addictive social media features are often difficult to locate. His bill would change that by requiring it to be easy to opt out of features like autoplay as well as forcing social media platforms to offer tools that help users limit their time on their sites and apps.

If passed, companies would have a few months to make these changes before the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and state attorneys could take action against them.

Hawley’s SMART Act has not yet gained and co-sponsors, but his past bills addressing consumer data protection and what some believe is “political censorship” have drawn some bipartisan interest.

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Lindsey Weedston is a Seattle area writer focused on mental health and addiction, politics, human rights, and various social issues. Her work has appeared in The Establishment, Ravishly, ThinkProgress, Little Things, Yes! Magazine, and others. You can find her daily writings at NotSorryFeminism.com. Twitter: https://twitter.com/LindseyWeedston

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