Mr. Hawley’s new bill has all the worst instincts of the regulatory state—a disappointing achievement coming from a Republican. It would remove the autoplay feature from YouTube, end infinite scrolling on Twitter and Facebook feeds, limit scrolling time to three-minute sessions, set default limits on the use of platforms to 30 minutes a day, and outlaw Snapchat streaks (rewards for consecutive days of contact with friends) and most “gamification” (badges, rewards) for any online service. These diktats are the opposite of market freedom.
The bill’s final kicker is a proposed triennial Federal Trade Commission report to Congress describing how internet companies “interfere with free choices of individuals” by “exploiting human psychology and brain physiology.” In other words, Mr. Hawley wants to restrict freedom because it interferes with free choice. Or something like that. Cut to a video of Orwell rolling over in his grave (though it won’t autoplay). OK, to be fair, Skopos Labs gives the bill a measly 3% chance of being enacted. But that doesn’t make it any less . . . cuckoo.
The New Republic has named Mr. Hawley as part of a group of “postliberal” politicians and intellectuals who think “Big Tech is basically Armageddon” because it is antifamily and anticulture, replacing religion as a dominant force in American lives. This sounds a bit contrived. I think it’s mostly a case of opportunism (which often goes without saying for a U.S. senator). Mr. Hawley is joining the ever-louder chorus of voices denouncing social media’s ability to influence opinion and steer elections. President Trump is even considering an executive order against social-media political bias.