Hawley Bill Takes Aim at Social Media 'Addiction'

A new bill would not put a stop to social media, but it would definitely put a "pause" to it.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) has introduced a bill to curb what he calls the "addictive and deceptive techniques" he says Big Tech uses to exploit its users.

Hawley is a freshman senator who has come out swinging at big tech, including calling social media an "unproductive peril' that diverts engineering talent to the coasts for unproductive work.

His new Social Media Addiction Reduction Technology (SMART) Act would ban infinite scrolling, autoplay, and more.

He said they exploit addiction science" to try to keep users on a social media platform longer than they might otherwise.

Related: Sens. Hawley, Warner Team on Social Media Monetization Dashboard

The bill makes exceptions for music playlists, music streaming services, and “achievement” badges that unlock new new services or functions.

Social media platforms would be required by the government to include "natural stopping points."

The bill would also try to make it easier for users to decline consent by requiring companies to give "accept" and "decline" boxes equal weight by making them the same size, format and font.

Related: FTC Targets Big Tech for Heightened Scrutiny

The FTC and Health and Human Services would have the authority to ban other practices they concluded should be out of bounds. The rules would have a three-year sunset unless renewed, so Congress would have to periodically review the new regs.

Finally, social media sites would have to give users an in-app tool to track and cap the time they spend across social media and devices.

“Big tech has embraced a business model of addiction," said Hawley in introducing the bill. "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.”

Hawley got a shout out from the 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," said executive director Josh Golin. 

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.