This Bill Wants to Make the Internet Worse

Carl Szabo
Jul 31 · 6 min read

The internet is an amazing tool. It has eased our ability to learn, connect, and entertain. But some lawmakers in Congress specifically want to make our online experience worse.

How so?

They want to outlaw:

  • autoplaying the next cooking video in a playlist.
  • automatic scrolling and instead require you to hit “next page” on a website.
  • Yelp from awarding banners to reliable reviewers.

As strange and concerning as these goals are, Sen. Hawley thinks they should become law.

Just this morning, Sen. Hawley (R-MO) proposed to expand the role of government into our online experiences, attacking notions of limited government and introduced his “Social Media Addiction Reduction Technology (SMART) Act” — a bill that would mandate how consumers are allowed to use their favorite online services.

We wanted to tackle Sen. Hawley’s new legislation by discussing issues with each of his proposals:

Banned: Autoplay

Banned: Automatic Scrolling

Banned: Rewarding Quality Contributors

Banned: Innovations in Web Design

Banned: Anything the FTC or HHS Doesn’t Like

Banned: Using a platform for more than 30 minutes a day without changing default settings

Mandated: Tools That Already Exist

BANNED: Autoplay

Sen. Hawley’s bill would ban platforms from autoplaying videos in a playlist. Users of platforms like YouTube, IGTV, and Tik Tok could find their viewing experience drastically interrupted. These services, which provide seamless delivery of content, similar to cable TV, would be banned from doing so.

In Hawley’s World, music playlists and “social media predominantly designed to stream music” would be exempted, but such categorizations don’t work so smoothly in the real world.

Autoplay allows new forms of media to compete with traditional TV-based media — as broadcast doesn’t inhibit the next show before getting your consent.

What if I wanted to create a YouTube playlist of my favorite artists best songs and wished to include an interview? Would my playlist be allowed to function with autoplay? How about dance videos with music in the background?

Autoplay allows new forms of media to compete with traditional TV-based media — as broadcast doesn’t inhibit the next show before getting your consent.

Sen. Hawley evidently sees the value in using autoplay features, as his website’s homepage uses the technology. While his website is not a social network, it still smells of hypocrisy to advocate the banning of a technology he so readily uses.

This idea is also especially unpopular with the public, with over four out of every five Americans disapproving in a recent poll by Zogby Analytics.

BANNED: Automatic scrolling.

Back in the mid-2000s, whenever we wanted to see more content from a website, we needed to constantly click “next page.” Simple innovations in user experience, like autoscrolling, allow us to easily view more content if and when we want without having to continuously load new webpages.

However, some consumers don’t like automatic scrolling. As a result, there are numerous free online services that allow you to turn off automatic scrolling.

There are even some services that already do what Hawley claims the internet so badly needs- including “Newsfeed Eradicator,” that removes everything on your newsfeed and replaces it with a quote of the day.

BANNED: Rewarding Quality Contributors

In Hawley’s World, being rewarded for producing regular or high-quality content for a social media site should be banned.

Sen. Hawley’s rejection of “achievements” sounds like it would only target platforms pushing users to use their service more, but it would also ban review services like Yelp and TripAdvisor from rewarding regular contributors that many of us benefit from.

Without these rewards, online reviews could be less frequent and less reliable.

BANNED: Innovations in Web Design

Sen. Hawley’s bill would ban websites from using specific web designs that try to prompt you to taking an action like signing up to an email list, unless they fit his specific guidelines.

Now, certain tactics used by small businesses to retain customers can be irritating, but it’s important to remember that not every business has the marketing might of large online retailers. So, they come up with new ways to help bring customers back to their site. Sometimes the ideas they come up with are great, such as discounts or subscription deals, and sometimes they’re less useful — such as heavily prompting you to sign up to their email list.

Over time, strategies that consumers prefer will win out, and businesses that rely on pleasing rather than pressuring their customers will be the ones that survive.

By getting the government involved, Sen. Hawley risks dampening this innovative process that will inevitably benefit consumers.

He also risks entrenching larger market players who don’t need to innovate to keep their customers coming back.

BANNED: Anything the FTC or HHS Doesn’t Like

Sen. Hawley’s bill also plans to give both the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) the ability to ban online practices. Both agencies would have the ability to ban any online practice for three years, leaving entrepreneurs on shaky ground where new techniques could be banned by unelected bodies.

Hawley’s bill provides no clear means for businesses or consumers to fight these bans by the FTC and HHS.

Hawley’s bill provides no clear means for businesses or consumers to fight these bans by the FTC and HHS. Businesses’ only hope is that Congress does not ratify the ban within the three year window before the ban elapses.

There’s nothing in Sen. Hawley’s proposal that would prevent the FTC or HHS from reinstating a ban even if Congress decided not to ratify it.

Banned: Using Social Media platform for More Than 30 Minutes a Day by Default

In Hawley’s World, adults can’t be trusted to regulate themselves. To control our use of technology, Sen. Hawley’s bill would require social media sites to limit our use to no more than 30 minutes a day by default.

If you wanted to watch a 60min video on how to cook your dinner tonight, it would take you two days.

So if you wanted to watch a 60min video on how to cook your dinner tonight, it would take you two days. Or if you are watching a live debate streamed on Twitter you better hope you hear all you want in the first 30 minutes.

Of course you can change these limits at any time — but Sen. Hawley’s bill also requires that the limits be reactivated every month. A consumer with multiple social networks would be left toggling the settings repeatedly so they can use these services in the way they want.

MANDATED: Tools That Already Exist

Finally, Sen. Hawley’s bill would force every social media platform to provide tools that allow users to track the amount of time they spend on social media and tools so they can limit how much time they spend on these services.

If that’s something you like the sound of, then you’re in luck! These tools are already available on both Apple and Google’s Android operating systems.

If you don’t think you’d need this tool, social media businesses would be forced into duplicating tools that already exist, adding to the costs for new entrants into the social media market. These tools would also be mandated regardless of whether changes in technology made them obsolete.

The Social Media Addiction Reduction Technology Act is Sen. Hawley’s latest effort to take control over online services away from Americans by handing it over to the government.

Polling shows that Hawley’s solutions are the type Americans don’t want, while further involving government in the tech industry.

Conservative colleagues of Sen. Hawley could remind him of President Reagan’s adage, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are ‘I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.’”

NetChoice

The home on Medium for all things NetChoice. Here, we publish opinion pieces on issues that we cover — fighting to break down barriers to e-commerce.

Carl Szabo

Written by

Tech and Privacy Attorney specializing in federal, state, and international legislation and tech issues.

NetChoice

NetChoice

The home on Medium for all things NetChoice. Here, we publish opinion pieces on issues that we cover — fighting to break down barriers to e-commerce.

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