Josh Hawley, Missouri’s Republican junior senator and Capitol Hill’s resident anti-social-media crusader, is at it again. This time, he proposes establishing technological roadblocks to coerce users into spending less time online. He asserts that platforms like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are causing “social media addiction.”
There’s one problem: medical science hasn’t established that any such addiction exists. And there’s another problem: Hawley claims to be a political conservative, yet this bill, like some of his other attention-getting attacks against social media, blithely scuttles conservatism’s core principles of free enterprise, limited government and personal responsibility. So what, exactly, does Hawley stand for?
The issues Hawley raises here might in fact be real. The question of whether social media is addictive in harmful ways is currently the subject of a vibrant debate among experts. But Hawley’s unilateral rush to both diagnose the disease and impose his own ham-handed version of a cure smacks of grandstanding. This is especially true in light of his broader war on Silicon Valley, which is premised on the silly assertion that the social-media industry is out to silence conservatives.
Hawley has dubbed his bill the Smart Act, for Social Media Addiction Reduction Technology — thus concluding right in the title that “social media addiction” is a real thing that needs reducing. Again, this has not been established in any scientific way.
The measure (which so far has no co-sponsors) would require social-media companies to automatically limit users to 30 minutes a day on their platforms. That limit could be manually removed by the user, but would automatically reset itself a month later. So anyone who wants to spend more than half an hour a day online would have to assert that desire once a month. This senseless bit of intrusive aggravation would come courtesy of Big Brother.
The bill would ban several routine practices that users by now are used to, such as the infinite scroll and auto refill functions, which automatically pull up new content when the user has already exhausted the content he or she requested. (For example, YouTube automatically plays the next video listed on the page). And the bill would require sites to include “natural stopping points,” ending continued content after a certain amount of scrolling.
Before Hawley became Facebook’s scourge in the Senate, he was Missouri’s attorney general, a position from which he joined a national lawsuit seeking to kill the Affordable Care Act on the basis that it is too intrusive.
So it’s not the federal government’s role to guarantee Americans’ access to medical care, but it is its role to make sure internet users are inconvenienced (for their own good, of course) every time they try to scroll their Twitter feed?
If Hawley is even half the conservative he claims to be, he should hit “delete” on this bill.