It’s not a secret anymore that companies design their websites, platforms and apps to keep the users coming back for more, forming a need inside of them very akin to addiction. In spite of studies that have shown such platforms to lead to social isolation or depression, there hasn’t been a lot of change.
YouTube still continues to autoplay and recommend videos, endless scrolling is something we find everywhere and Snapchat streaks are still doing the rounds. All of this leads to something that is called an ‘addictive design’ which aims to keep the users hooked to the content.
Google and other similar companies have developed a range of well being tools that aim to help the users balance their life and technology and helps them set limits for smartphone usage. However, most of these well-being apps still allow the user complete control over the settings. After all, a notification telling you you’ve spent too much time on Instagram only needs to be swiped to the side and never thought of again.
However, Sen. Josh Hawley wants to do something about it via the Social Media Addiction Reduction Technology Act (SMART), which wants to ban the features that keep the users hooked to social media platforms. The bill has first to be approved by the Federal Trade Commission and the Health and Human Services but, if it does pass, it would set in place some rules that the Congress could even put into law in the future.
Tristan Harris, a former Google design ethicist was also present during the hearing where the senators heard more about social media addiction from a panel of experts on persuasive technology. Harris explained more in depth how the platforms create features and products whose end goal is just to make the users spend more time on their website.
“If I take the bottom out of this glass and I keep refilling the water or the wine, you won’t know when to stop drinking,” Harris has said at the hearing. “That’s what happens with infinitely scrolling feeds.”
If the bill passes, social media platforms would have to track how long the users spend on their platform and cut off access once they’ve reached a certain limit.
They would also have to display a pop-up every 30 minutes which would let the users know how much time they were logged on, among other things and would, as the SMART Act puts it not be allowed to “manipulate people into consenting by making it difficult to decline consent“.
“Big tech’ has embraced a business model of addiction.” Hawley said. “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.”