Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) has introduced the Social Media Addiction Reduction Technology (SMART) Act, a bill that -- if passed -- would restrict social media platforms from using ‘addictive and deceptive techniques’ allegedly intended to ‘exploit users.’ The restrictions would apply to ‘certain features’ like endless scrolling; the bill would also require companies to provide a way for users to monitor their social media usage and would require ‘choice parity for consent.’

Senator Hawley accuses big tech companies of designing social media platforms to capture users’ attention to sell their attention to advertisers. The legislation targets multiple design elements that are allegedly addictive, including endlessly scrolling pages that auto-load new content when the user nears the bottom, as well as auto-playing videos and arguably pointless achievements earned by using the platforms.

The legislation targets multiple design elements that are allegedly addictive, including endlessly scrolling pages that auto-load new content when the user nears the bottom, as well as auto-playing videos and arguably pointless achievements earned by using the platforms.

The bill would provide exceptions for certain design choices, such as allowing achievement badges that ‘substantially increase’ the user’s access to new features or services, as well as exclusions for social media platforms that mainly revolve around music streaming and for music playlists.

If the legislation were passed, social media companies would be required to feature natural stopping points on their platforms, eliminating the popular infinite newsfeed design, and these platforms would also need to make it easier for users to decline consent by prominently displaying ‘decline’ boxes with the same size and design as ‘accept’ boxes.

Beyond the stated restrictions, the bill would grant the HHS and FTC authority to ‘ban other similar practices,’ something that would expire after three years unless Congress ratified it. Speaking about his proposed SMART Act, Sen. Hawley said:

‘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. This legislation will put an end to that and encourage real innovation by tech companies.’

Though some aspects of the bill are welcome, namely the built-in ability to monitor usage and more easily decline specific requests, some users may not be happy about the loss of auto-playing videos on platforms like YouTube, which eliminates the need to manually click the ‘next’ button, and infinite scrolling, which is very convenient when scrolling through image platforms.