Newly Proposed Bill Would Limit Social Media Usage

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Ever get annoyed when you’re just trying to reach the bottom of a page on your smart phone, but the page just keeps scrolling without end?

Have you opened your favorite app just to have a video start playing automatically? Well, a new bill proposed by Missouri Senator Josh Hawley, might change all of that.

The SMART (Social Media Addiction Reduction Technology) Act is aimed at social media companies to stop them from using measures that ‘exploit human psychology or brain physiology’. Hawley believes that these companies use tactics to trick people’s brains into using apps endlessly, leading to social media addiction and ‘interfere with free choices of individuals on the internet.’

Online sites such as Instagram, Twitter, Youtube, and Snapchat are the main targets of this bill. Hawley states that social media companies like these, use tactics to ‘exploit human psychology or brain physiology.’ This bill is aimed at limiting user use on these sites, thus cutting down on internet addiction.

In the proposed bill, Hawley states that each company limit a user’s use to a default of 30 minutes per day, but users would have the choice to change the amount of daily time. However, companies would have to reset each user’s usage back to the defaulted 30 minutes each month, along with implementing a pop-up on each user’s phone telling them how much time they’ve spent on the app thus far. This is all part of Hawley’s vision to give every company site a ‘more user-friendly interface.’

This bill also requires that Congress submit an update on internet addiction and how social media companies ‘interfere with free choices of individuals on the Internet every 3 years. Along with time restrictions, the bill states that it would ban ‘gamification’. Things like trophies, and various ‘awards’ that apps like Snapchat use as incentives for user’s when they’ve reached a certain amount of snapchats, would be taken off. When it comes to autoplay, the bill states that a site would not be able to autoplay videos without a user specifically tapping on the video itself. This would also hold true to ‘infinite scrolling’ which refers to a page that continuously auto refills without a user having to tap over to the next page. Hawley says a user should have to tap a button to be able to move to the next page.

The SMART Act is one of several initiatives that Senator Hawley has tried taking on big tech companies in his first year of Congress. From Google to the Federal Trade Commission, Hawley has made it his mission to confront companies on user data privacy and abuse concerns.

Does it Stand a Chance?
No, not really. This is an attention-drawing initiative but historically legislation like this doesn’t hold up. The W3C and its various standards take into public input however very often it’s browsers that can sway the browsing public one way or another. For example, Apple and Google Chrome’s door-slamming on the Adobe Flash plugin not only depopularized it but nailed the coffin shut. Flash’s death knell would likely still have taken place given the need for accessibility compliance for search engine optimization but between Apple’s iPhone/iPad ecosystem and Chrome’s market domination, they served as a catalyst to that end.

However, much like what we saw with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) it is possible for regulations like this to pass. The GDPR stated that a person within the EU, cannot have their personal data processed unless there is legal documentation explaining why. Companies like Googles, aren’t allowed to have access to anyone’s personal information, like home address or even IP address. This can make it harder for businesses, like Facebook and Google, who are losing users and advertisements because of GDPR guidelines.

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