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Senator Josh Hawley introduces SMART Act bill to curb addictive features of social media

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Republican Sen. Josh Hawley has been making the rounds for his criticism of social media and big tech companies. Hawley has now proposed a bill to control “deceptive techniques” and to curb the addictive effects of social media.

The Social Media Addiction Reduction Technology (SMART) Act proposed by the Missouri senator would cripple social media companies as it would prevent them from implementing user engagement features such as infinite scroll, auto-play, and engagement-rewards such as streaks and trophies.

This bill proposes to ban several features implemented by top social networking sites such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat. Apart from removing a few features, the tech giants will also be compelled to integrate new user-friendly features and interfaces that help them fine-tune and optimize the amount of time spent on each social media platform.

“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,” said Sen. Hawley.

Here’s an overview of a few popular features that are proposed to be banned and deemed unlawful according to the SMART Act:

1. “Infinite Scroll or Auto Refill”– This section of the bill refers to practices implemented by Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram in specific. The afore-mentioned apps provide infinite scroll option wherein content keeps loading without an external prompt from the user.

2. “Elimination of Natural Stopping Points”– This aspect too, partly refers to infinite scroll feature where social media platforms load new content without the user explicitly requesting for new content.

3. “Autoplay”– Playing audio or video content continuously without taking external prompts from the user in the form of a button or icon click. This aspect specifically highlights YouTube’s autoplay feature.

4. “Badges and Other Awards Linked to Engagement with the Platform”– Awarding users with badges, trophies and more for staying active on a platform is considered unlawful. For instance, Snapchat’s ‘streak’ feature is one such engagement tactic that is to be banned according to this bill.

Hawley had proposed similar tech-related bills regarding aspects such as children’s online privacy, video game design, and more. As of now, this latest proposal doesn’t have any co-sponsors. While Hawley has garnered the support of several antitrust groups, neither of his legislations are seeing significant progress in Congress.

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