Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), one of the most vocal critics of the big tech Masters of the Universe in the U.S. Senate, delivered a speech at the Hoover Institution last weekend highlighting the dangers posed by social media business models to American society.
Sen. Hawley questioned whether Silicon Valley was as valuable to America as it is often portrayed.
“One of the most difficult things about acting in this area is the fear that any significant change in this space, any significant adjustment to the rules of the road, whether it be privacy requirements or content requirements, might end up stifling Silicon Valley, which we are accustomed to regarding — certainly we’re told — is the great crown jewel of the American economy. But is it?”
“Is this really the best that our best minds have to offer?”
Sen. Hawley went on to argue that the social media economy may not be a “source of strength for America’s tomorrow, but … rather a source of peril.”
The Senator dubbed the business model of social media platforms as “attention arbitrage” — tech companies buying users’ attention and selling it to advertisers, “for the highest price of course.”
“Now, arbitrage opportunities, as those of you familiar with markets know, are supposed to close, right? The market eventually determines something is off. How is it that this attention arbitrage in the social media market is preserved and renewed over and over again?”
“And that’s where things get really scary, because it’s preserved by hijacking users’ neural circuitry to prevent rational decision making about what to click and how to spend time. Or, just to simplify that a little bit, it’s preserved through addiction. Social media only works as a business model if it consumes users’ time and attention day after day after day.”
“It needs to replace the various activities we did perfectly well without social media, for the entire known history of the human race with itself. It needs to replace those activities with time spent on social media. So that addiction is actually the point. That’s what social media shareholders are investing in. They are investing in the addiction of users.”
Sen. Hawley went on to cite recent research linking social media use to depression and even suicide.
“Today’s Washington Post, for instance, I don’t know if you’ve seen it, has a chilling story about the rash of teenage suicide especially in younger teenagers. . . It’s not just an uptick, it’s a surge in teenage suicide, particularly among younger teenagers, [that] coincides eerily with the introduction of the iPhone particularly in its later models where the social media platforms and the social media apps were readily available and optimized for use.”
“Many studies now suggest that the time spent on social media and on social media platforms at least correlates to some degree with increased depression, loneliness. All of these social consequences, these are significant, you might even say that they are severe, and the question we need to be asking is what is the role of social media in driving them, in encouraging them, in promoting them, and is this really something that is good for our society in the long term, or for our economy for that matter?”