Forget 'Breaking Up' Internet Companies, Senator Josh Hawley Says They Should All Die Because They're Too Popular

from the say-what-now? dept

We’ve had our issues with politicians like Senator Elizabeth Warren whose plans to “break up” big internet companies don’t seem to make much sense, but it appears that Senator Josh Hawley has decided to take things to another level of insanity altogether. In an op-ed for USA Today, Hawley makes the argument that Facebook, Instagram and Twitter should all die. And while there are plenty of people who appear to support a dead Facebook in response to that company’s long history of sketchy practices, that’s not really the reason Hawley wants them dead.

He wants them dead because they’re too popular. Hawley cherry picks some evidence to suggest that using social media is bad for our health.

And in order to guarantee an audience big enough to make their ads profitable, big tech has developed a business model designed to do one thing above all: addict.

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram ? they devote massive amounts of money and the best years of some of the nation?s brightest minds to developing new schemes to hijack their users? neural circuitry. That?s because social media only works ? to make money, anyway ? if it consumes users? time and attention, day after day. It needs to replace the various activities we enjoyed and did perfectly well before social media existed.

This hearkens back to nearly every other overblown, ridiculous moral panic of yesteryear. Television, radio, video games, novels, comic books, dungeons and dragons, pinball, rock and roll. They’ve all received this nutty treatment. Even chess.

“A pernicious excitement to learn and play chess has spread all over the country, and numerous clubs for practicing this game have been formed in cities and villages. Why should we regret this? It may be asked. We answer, chess is a mere amusement of a very inferior character, which robs the mind of valuable time that might be devoted to nobler acquirements, while it affords no benefit whatever to the body. Chess has acquired a high reputation as being a means to discipline the mind, but persons engaged in sedentary occupations should never practice this cheerless game; they require out-door exercises–not this sort of mental gladiatorship.”

Or, remember the report from 1909 by the “NY Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children”

This new form of entertainment has gone far to blast maidenhood … Depraved adults with candies and pennies beguile children with the inevitable result. The Society has prosecuted many for leading girls astray through these picture shows, but GOD alone knows how many are leading dissolute lives begun at the ‘moving pictures.’

Hawley’s piece is one and the same with those previous moral panics. It’s kind of amusing for a guy who claims to be a “free market, less government intervention” conservative to now stand up and argue for literally shutting down private enterprises because they’re popular, but politics and hypocrisy go hand in hand.

Of course, to make his point, Hawley wants to tie popular social media to another moral panic: “drugs!”

Let?s be clear. This is a digital drug. And the addiction is the point. Addiction is what Mark Zuckerberg is selling.

Like other drugs, this one hurts its users. Attention spans dull. Tempers quicken. Relationships fray.

And those are the benign effects. The Journal of Pediatrics recently noted a surge in attempted suicide: more than double the attempts over the last decade for those under 19, with a tripling among girls and young women 10 to 24. The study?s authors can?t prove social media is to blame, but they strongly suspect it plays a critical role. Congress has a duty to investigate that potential link further.

Meanwhile, as we noted just earlier this week, another comprehensive study did not find any evidence to support the idea that social media is driving depression. But who needs facts when you have a moral panic to sell.

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Companies: facebook, instagram, twitter

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Comments on “Forget 'Breaking Up' Internet Companies, Senator Josh Hawley Says They Should All Die Because They're Too Popular”

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37 Comments
FlatZOut (profile) says:

To Sum It Up

So what I take from this is that “Some politicians believe that the entire internet should disappear because they think it’s dangerous to our lives, and they disguise this by saying they’re too popular”

They probably also think that we should outlaw Microwaves, Television, Refrigerators and cars because they’re technology.

What are you, a human or a caveman?

Berenerd (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The issue with your statement about a person wanting things for the wrong reasons can be dangerous.

You get many people that agree that world peace is a good thing. Then you have people killing off the criminals, then the definition of criminal changes, and we go down the pipe until everyone is dead in the name of world peace.

Before you say that, remember, there are still people in this world that feel, the only way to stop violence is to have nuclear bombs.

TFG says:

Re: Re:

I probably don’t agree with you on the "right thing" here, Mason, but I do want to point a potential issue with the thinking espoused in your post here.

Wanting the right thing for the wrong reasons has a serious chance of resulting in wrong things. For the purpose of this, let’s simply assume that, yes, Facebook should be dead. We work to make that happen, because it’s the right thing in this scenario.

Mr. Hawley wants it dead because it’s too popular, not because it has seriously sketchy practices. Mr. Hawley is basically of the opinion that Facebook should be dead because the thing that it is is bad, rather than because Facebook is abusing the information and users that it has.

We, on the other hand, want Facebook to be dead because of aforementioned abuse, but the concept and service of easy connection of people is something we think has value.

If we do things our way, we can possibly kill Facebook and pave the way for a good replacement that has protections against the kind of abuse that Facebook has.

Meanwhile, Mr. Hawley is instead working on killing Facebook and salting the earth so that no replacement can be had.

We both, on the surface, want the "Right thing" – but because Mr. Hawley wants it for the wrong reasons, he’s going to bring along problems. He’s going to bring along wrong things.

In a case like this, I couldn’t accept Hawley as a partner in the cause.

Thad (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I think the general thrust of your argument is correct — Hawley’s desire to do the right thing for the wrong reasons can have serious negative consequences at an implementation level — but I think you’re oversimplifying his perspective. While it’s true that the op/ed this article focuses on makes broad criticisms of what Facebook is and how it works, Hawley has also sponsored legislation targeting social networking sites’ data collection and retention policies. While I think they’re a mixed bag (see my comments below about implementation concerns), they do suggest that he has some specific and granular criticisms of what Facebook does with the data it collects.

TFG says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

For clarity, my argument is specific against the mindset of "right thing for wrong reasons is still right thing so everything is good."

I actually don’t have any idea of what Hawley is actually implementing, and I personally don’t think that killing Facebook, Twitter, etc. is actually the right thing.

I intended to present a case scenario based on this current instance to demonstrate the problems with the above mindset.

Hawley himself may well turn out to be more nuanced than he is presenting, and if so, great.

Thad (profile) says:

Re: Re:

But context matters. We’re not just talking about a random opinion writer, we’re talking about a US senator. Wanting the right thing for the wrong reasons can be a problem if you’re the guy who’s actually working on implementation of the "right thing."

Hawley’s proposed updates to COPPA seem well-intentioned, but they raise some pretty serious implementation questions. (That "Eraser Button" proposal sounds supiciously like Right to Be Forgotten.)

He’s made some vague comments about "pro-competitive measures". That could be good, or it could be bad; I’ll have to see what pro-competitive measures he has in mind in order to render a judgement.

Hawley could turn out to be an ally when it comes to online privacy and competition (regardless of whether I agree with him on other issues). But coming at it from a moral panic perspective, with cherry-picked research to support his existing viewpoint, is not a good look. Like Warren, I think he may very well want the right thing, but how they go about it matters, and I think both of them could stand to be better-informed on these issues.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

But a person who wants the right thing for the wrong reasons… still wants the right thing.

Except this guy doesn’t want the right thing.

Average Joes who wish Facebook would die a natural death because people are sick of it and stop using it is vastly different than a government official suggesting the government should step in and either shut it down outright or regulate it so heavily that it becomes useless.

The former is the natural function of the free market. The latter is unconstitutional censorship.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Any day now...

Well now, if ‘it’s addictive’ and ‘it can be dangerous’ is grounds to not just regulate a company but flat out kill it I look forward to the bills he will surely be proposing to completely shut down the tobacco industry in the US, because I’m pretty sure social media companies don’t even come close to the addiction and body count that industry has.

On the other hand if he doesn’t, well, that’ll just nicely highlight that this is yet another politician who doesn’t actually give a damn about the ‘problems’ he’s complaining about, and is instead doing it merely for cheap PR.

Anonymous Coward says:

Those kids and the nets I tell ya.

Back in my day kids had other nets…REAL nets! We fished! We did not spend all day yelling at each other inside. We did that later on in the political chambers. They don’t know anything about that I tell ya! If we had problems we did not play call of duty or “doom” We just declared war on each other and tried to avoid real doom! They don’t know…

Anonymous Coward says:

"And in order to guarantee an audience big enough to make their ads profitable, big tech has developed a business model designed to do one thing above all: addict."

Well, that part isn’t particularly controversial, I think. Maybe it’s mis-targeted, but companies are busy trying to weaponize FOMO and leverage addiction cycles to move product/subscription/F2P premium currencies/lootboxes.

Anonymous Coward says:

This is just a very weird article
Personally, I don’t think action will be taken for now because if Republicans make a bill amending S230 to “Stop silencing conservatives” The Democrat controlled House would reject it because the Dems have a different reason on why they are questioning S230 (To try and stop hate speech)
Both sides are misguided, but because the 2 parties have different goals for the issue, it’s gonna go nowhere in my opinion. Plus the Dems want Big Tech to be an issue for the campaign for the 2020 election being another reason.

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