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Mon Aug 12, 2019, 01:57 PM

Social Media and Hawley's Folly - WSJ op-ed

(cross posting from the editorials page)


What does Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley have against Silicon Valley? On July 31 he tweeted (as opposed to sending by Pony Express) “Social media ‘innovation’? What innovation? Big Tech doesn’t deliver for the American people, and that’s the biggest problem of all.” The previous day the senator introduced S.2314, the Social Media Addiction Reduction Technology Act, which would smother with a giant pillow the innovation he claims not to see. Be warned: Regulation may soon arrive in Techland.


Mr. Hawley’s new bill would remove the autoplay feature from YouTube, end infinite scrolling on Twitter and Facebook feeds, limit scrolling time to three-minute sessions, set default limits on the use of platforms to 30 minutes a day, and outlaw Snapchat streaks (rewards for consecutive days of contact with friends) and most “gamification” (badges, rewards) for any online service. These diktats are the opposite of market freedom. The bill’s final kicker is a proposed triennial Federal Trade Commission report to Congress describing how internet companies “interfere with free choices of individuals” by “exploiting human psychology and brain physiology.” In other words, Mr. Hawley wants to restrict freedom because it interferes with free choice. Or something like that. Cut to a video of Orwell rolling over in his grave (though it won’t autoplay). OK, to be fair, Skopos Labs gives the bill a measly 3% chance of being enacted. But that doesn’t make it any less . . . cuckoo.


Yet the claim that big tech companies don’t deliver innovation is false. We can stream TV shows on subways, enjoy same-day package delivery, have a lady in our phones help us to avoid traffic, sort photos automatically by date, location and faces, and get instant answers to any question in our kitchens from something that looks like a hockey puck. Yeah, but what have you done for me lately?

Mr. Hawley is a quick climber. He likely imagines himself on the presidential debate stage in 2023. But he might want to check the numbers. Eighty percent of Americans use social media. We’re not addicted, we’re bored—and can you blame us? Politics are petty, sports are political, school is dull, entertainment is either superheroes or dystopian muck—and smartphones are the new muscle cars.


https://www.wsj.com/articles/social-media-and-hawleys-folly-11565551761 (paid subscription)

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