This sort of narrative—in which social media is effectively turning its users into pliant, virtually addicted content consumers—is as ubiquitous as it is unconvincing. It follows the tried-and-true template of branding new forms of media (novels, film, radio, comic books, rock music, video games) as inherently toxic, uniquely irresistible and leading to social collapse. The World Health Organization (WHO) has already declared that “gaming disorder” is a type of “behavioral addiction” and it’s only a matter of time before people discussing social media addiction in figurative terms produce laws based on a literal equivalence between opioids and Instagram.
In the immediate moment, though, Google and YouTube’s time in the barrel will probably deal less with questions about social-media addiction and the mind-warping nature of super-secret search algorithms, and more with old-fashioned economic complaints from established interests that want Google to pay them a bigger cut of ad revenues. Tomorrow brings congressional hearings about The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, a bill co-sponsored by Reps. David Cicilline (D–R.I.) and Doug Collins (R–Ga.) that would exempt newspapers from antitrust rules so they can collectively bargain with Google and Facebook, the two companies that dominate online advertising (Google accounts for about 37 percent of online ad revenue and Facebook for about 22 percent).