Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) wrote an op-ed Wednesday that big tech’s recent innovations amount to nothing more than “sophisticated exploitation” of Americans’ privacy and well-being. Instead, the senator urged Silicon Valley to “enrich lives” and “strengthen society.”
Sen. Hawley, one of the Senate’s foremost critics of big tech, wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, lamenting how big tech’s innovations has only amounted to “sophisticated exploitation” of Americans.
The Missouri senator said that big tech has monetized their older innovations by increasing users’ addiction to social media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram.
“To monetize older innovations, the dominant platforms employ behavioral scientists to develop interface designs that keep users online as much as possible. Big Tech calls it ‘engagement,’ Hawley said. “Another word would be addiction.”
The senator contended that big tech’s “innovation” only serves to keep users more addicted to Silicon Valley’s platforms, which has only continued to worsen society.
What “innovation” remains in this space is innovation to keep the treadmill running, longer and faster, drawing more data from users to bombard us with more ads for more stuff.
But here’s the problem. As we spend more time on that digital treadmill, our real-world relationships atrophy, sometimes to disastrous effect. Teen suicide is up. Twenty-two percent of millennials report that they have no friends. More than a few researchers have noticed a connection.
Sen. Hawley said that big tech has continued to entrench its dominance in the technology markets, by either buying out or copying any substantial competition they might face.
“The best pitch for a startup is a pitch for getting purchased by one of the tech giants a few years in. If they won’t buy you, they’ll just copy you,” Hawley said.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has reportedly started investigating whether Facebook WhatsApp or Instagram to prevent those companies from becoming competitors.
To combat many of big tech’s negative influences on society, Sen. Hawley proposed legislation that would curb social media’s addictive features such as “autoplay” or “infinite scroll.” The Missouri conservative also pushed for solutions that would allow Americans to browse the Internet without surveillance from the social media companies, as well as protecting privacy solutions for children.
Further, Sen. Hawley has proposed legislation that would audit social media companies for bias in their content moderation; if the social media company were to have a political bias in their content moderation processes, they would lose their Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act legal immunity.
Beyond the senator’s proposals, Hawley urged Silicon Valley to become leaders and devise solutions that would benefit society.
Sen. Hawley said, “To the masters of Big Tech, I say: Raise your sights. If you want to be leaders for this country in this century, earn it. Build tools that enrich lives, strengthen society, create good-paying jobs, and improve productive capacity.”
“There was a time when innovation meant something grand and technology meant something hopeful, when we dreamed of going to the stars and beyond, of curing diseases and creating new ways to travel and make things,” the senator added.
“Those are the dreams that fuel the American future. Those are the dreams we need to dream again,” Sen. Hawley concluded in his op-ed.