The Social Media Addiction Reduction Technology Act of 2019 aims to curb features of social media platforms that encourage prolonged engagement with the platform. According to the bill, such features “substantially impede freedom of choice” and “increase the risk of internet addiction” among users.
The bill includes four main provisions:
- Features such as infinite scrolling, auto-play, and awards for social media engagement would be banned from apps and websites.
- Companies would be required to include in-app tools for users to monitor and limit the amount of time spent on the platform, with a 30-minute limit across devices as the default option. The default can be changed by users, but it automatically resets to 30 minutes at the start of every month.
- Companies would be required to provide users with the option to decline the terms of service as easily as they can accept them, meaning that websites need to display accept and decline boxes with equal size and design.
- The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) would be in charge of the enforcement and monitoring of these provisions as well as of producing a report on internet addiction every three years. Together with the Department of Health and Human Services, the FTC could impose additional rules against similar features of social media.
The social media industry is projected to generate $32 billion in advertising spending and $43 billion in revenues by the end of 2019. Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO), sponsor of this bill, claims that the attention economy—a business model that treats human attention as a scarce resource to harvest and resell—creates incentives for internet companies to produce innovation to “capture more attention by using psychological tricks that make it difficult to look away.”
The bill is set to limit that incentive. Nevertheless, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – V, a comprehensive collection of psychiatric diseases, and the World Health Organization have not yet recognized internet addiction or social media addiction as disorders for lack of scientific consensus.