It took half a century for us to work out that smoking had certain negative qualities, and it took another twenty years for the legislators to do something about it.
Big Tobacco was a formidable opponent to change for several reasons. Yes, it was massively lucrative, provided thousands of jobs and sold an aspirational product – but it’s strength ultimately lay in its highly addictive nature. These are the corporations to be really scared of, the ones that hold their customers captive through addiction – and although Big Tobacco has started to reconfigure, there will always be products that we will find ourselves hopelessly reliant on.
Today’s addiction is omnipresent, constantly complained about and it touches everything. You see it everywhere; you’re looking at it right now. Social media, with its ironic assault on society and the media. It’s given us doxing, President Trump and our new Prime Minister’s first move was to pump money into the largely unregulated world of political advertising. Social media has given us a lot, but we have sold things that cannot be bought back. It clearly needs to be regulated.
Which is what makes U.S. Senator Josh Hawley’s attack on social media so intelligent, as instead of taking social media on in terms of false news or tax avoidance, is introducing the SMART (Social Media Addiction Reduction Technology) bill. Sen. Hawley has learnt the lesson of the past and targeted the addictive aspects of social media.
Artwork by Josan Gonzalez
His bill finds that ’some of these internet companies design their platforms and services to exploit brain physiology and human psychology. By exploiting psychological and physiological vulnerabilities, these design choices interfere with the free choice of users.’
It seeks to stop this exploitation by ending the most addictive features of social media. Should it be passed, infinite scrolling, achievement badges for long usage and video autoplay will have to go, and optional time limits for all users will be mandatory. This is encouraging work, but like every problem we are faced with we have a limited time to pull it off, so we can only hope that our battle to control and contain social media is fought faster and more intelligently.