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Area Republican Wants to Outlaw Social Media's Dreaded “Infinite Scroll”

Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley took aim at a feature central to our online experience with a new bill Tuesday.

by David Uberti
Jul 30 2019, 5:35pm

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One of the loudest Republican tech critics wants to force your Twitter fingers to take a rest.

Comparing social media use to an epidemic as he unveiled a new bill Tuesday, Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley took aim at a feature central to our online experience: the infinite scroll. It’s what allows you to endlessly rifle through strangers’ Instagram posts as you lie in bed, driving up the user engagement that tech companies crave for advertising.

Hawley has portrayed Big Tech as a cancer on traditional values — and a key participant in what he sees as a culture war between “the great American middle” and “the cosmopolitan elite.” His latest bill would also ban autoplay videos and require tech platforms to automatically limit users to 30 minutes of browsing unless they actively opt for more.

“Big Tech has embraced a business model of addiction,” Hawley added in a statement. “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.”

It’s the latest sign that the rookie lawmaker is trying to do for social media what Tipper Gore did with parental advisory labels on albums. In a series of legislative proposals, his suggestions have run from curbing “loot boxes” in video games like Fortnite to amending the crucial law that allows tech platforms to moderate content.

While the bills are basically dead on arrival in a divided Congress, Hawley has put significant public pressure on Big Tech from his newfound bully pulpit. His criticism has even drawn praise from some on the left concerned with overbearing corporate power.

“Maybe we’d be better off if Facebook disappeared,” Hawley wrote to sum it all up in USA Today in May.

Maybe! What’s more clear is that the tech criticism has drawn gobs of media coverage in Hawley’s first year in Washington. His haymakers against Silicon Valley executives in a series of Senate hearings have helped turn mushy charges of anti-conservative bias into Republican orthodoxy. It even landed Hawley a speaking slot at President Donald Trump’s “social media summit” turned troll fest in June.

Consider it all food for thought the next time you relentlessly scroll through Twitter or Facebook and notice Trump soaking up users’ attention.

Cover image: Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., listens during a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee on oversight of Customs and Border Protection's response to the smuggling of persons at the southern border, Wednesday, March 6, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Josh Hawley