A few weeks ago, Senator Josh Hawley from Missouri introduced a new bill entirely devoted to curbing social media addiction. The bill, nicknamed the SMART Act, or the Social Media Addiction Reduction Technology Act, aims to regulate and prohibit common practices that affect almost any and every mobile phone user who engages with social media apps.
Firstly, Hawley’s bill wants to eliminate the “infinite scroll” feature on apps, which would require users to manually refresh their feeds if they want to consume more content. Additionally, each app would include a pre-set 30-minute daily limit, popping up to remind users when they’ve reached said limit. Users can manually adjust the time themselves, but it will reset back to 30 minutes every month.
These proposed changes primarily affect apps like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, but rules aren’t restricted simply to them. For YouTube, once you’ve finished watching one video, another video will not automatically start. On Snapchat, so-called “Snapstreaks” will be eliminated as they encourage and promote users to come back to the app every day to keep their streak up.
A similar bill that was proposed in June of this year, dubbed the Ending Support for Internet Censorship Act, requires platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to “prove they are ‘politically neutral’ or face liability for their users’ content,” according to NBC News.
In July, the FBI announced they’d be looking for a “Social Media Alerting Subscription,” or a type of A.I. tool that could comb through the posts and content on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and others, to help determine if an individual could potentially be a threat to national security. Reason Magazine was quick to call the idea “like a meme-illiterate Facebook-stalking precog from Minority Report.”
Regardless of one’s politics, the growing involvement of the government’s interest in policing social media is noteworthy. It’s not uncommon for average people to remark that we all spend too much time looking at our phones, or think that people who only post selfies are narcissists despite the fact that one recent study found absolutely no link between a selfie-filled account and narcissism. CNN reports that a study that involved 10,000 UK-based children between the ages of 13 and 16 concluded that teen girls are the most negatively affected by social media consumption, so it’s not untrue to think that mental health is affected by online activity.
But should measures to curb online experiences become a government-related issue? Steve Krakauer at NBC News is quick to point out that the SMART Act makes no distinction between how adults and children engage with social media, and allowing the government such control could mean sacrificing free speech online. According to Axios, companies like Facebook are similarly attempting to regulate how their platform is being used – specifically targeting “manipulated media – everything from sophisticated AI-enabled video or audio deepfakes.”
So, what does it mean that both the government and big tech companies aim to control the average internet users’ online habits? Although many of us would agree that social media apps can greatly affect someone’s mental health, do we think these attempts at creating policy are the best bet we have? Should social media be regulated at all, even in the face of rampant bullying and even more serious hate groups spreading like wildfire? One thing is for certain: all the ways we experience social media are currently under a microscope and that can’t be ignored – and yes, they will impact influencers.