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.

Filed Under: addiction, drugs, health crisis, josh hawley, moral panic, popularity, social media
Companies: facebook, instagram, twitter


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  • icon
    FlatZOut (profile), 23 May 2019 @ 9:50am

    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?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 23 May 2019 @ 10:01am

    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.

    That may be. But a person who wants the right thing for the wrong reasons... still wants the right thing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Berenerd (profile), 23 May 2019 @ 10:10am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      kallethen, 23 May 2019 @ 10:10am

      Re:

      I'll disagree with that statement. It's how we get bad laws that cause harm later down the road.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      TFG, 23 May 2019 @ 10:22am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Thad (profile), 23 May 2019 @ 10:29am

        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.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          TFG, 23 May 2019 @ 1:24pm

          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.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Thad (profile), 23 May 2019 @ 10:24am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Glen, 23 May 2019 @ 10:30am

      Re:

      Do you agree with him about chess also?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      btr1701 (profile), 23 May 2019 @ 11:03am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Gary (profile), 23 May 2019 @ 1:09pm

      Re:

      That may be. But a person who wants the right thing for the wrong reasons... still wants the right thing.

      So stop using social media if it is corrupting your eternal soul? Otherwise, hands off my soul, I'll sully it all I want with chess/newspapers/comics/tv and comment sections.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Glen, 23 May 2019 @ 10:07am

    He didn't scream anything about getting off his lawn after that, did he?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 May 2019 @ 10:19am

    Remember when "get off my lawn" was just about the grass?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 23 May 2019 @ 10:24am

    Not that I wholly disagree with the idea of social media as an addictive technology, but dismantling the major players outright won’t stop that. Take Twitter down and something else will replace it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    btr1701 (profile), 23 May 2019 @ 11:08am

    Solution?

    It'd be nice if guys like this would include solutions to the problem of which they so breathlessly complain.

    A solution that wouldn't be outright unconstitutional, that is, because the government can't actually 'kill off' or outlaw social media without first repealing the 1st Amendment.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 May 2019 @ 11:52am

      Re: Solution?

      One needs to have a solution for something prior to complaining about something?

      Why?

      I have no solution to the problem of people wanting a solution prior to complaining, and yet I am complaining about the demand for a solution before complaining can commence.

      Go figure.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        btr1701 (profile), 23 May 2019 @ 12:29pm

        Re: Re: Solution?

        One needs to have a solution for something prior to complaining about something?

        I didn't say it was necessary. I said it'd be nice.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 May 2019 @ 11:27am

    Devil's advocate: Addiction can be analogized to engagement which is the goal of social media companies. Rather silly to claim anything to the contrary. Social media companies infamously hire large numbers of psychologists with the goal of increasing engagement.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Michael, 23 May 2019 @ 11:47am

      Re:

      So what?

      Engagement or addiction without harm is fine, no? We are all addicted to oxygen - is that such a big problem? If you have some evidence that "Facebook Addiction" actually causes a problem, there might be a useful conversation, but nothing seems to legitimately point in that direction.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 23 May 2019 @ 12:00pm

        Re: Re:

        I find it difficult to take your response seriously when you compare social media to oxygen.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Gary (profile), 23 May 2019 @ 1:13pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          i find it difficult to take your complaint seriously since you equate "engagement" to "addiction."

          I like to do engaging things. They are - be definition - interesting and fun, and keep me occupied. Video games are fun. Heroin is addictive.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 23 May 2019 @ 2:47pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    wereisjessicahyde (profile), 23 May 2019 @ 3:16pm

    What do you expect...

    ...from a guy that thinks human trafficking is the result of premarital sex and the use of contraception.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Glenn, 23 May 2019 @ 3:20pm

    Yes, even if you have the time and the money and the inclination, you should instead just sit back and contemplate your navel... "and donate your money to our reelection campaign--because we care about you [but not what you want or how you want to live your own life]".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 May 2019 @ 3:34pm

    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...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    anus head, 24 May 2019 @ 6:00am

    stuffed in the hole

    kill them all, stuff things in their holes. All Internet shit companies should fucking well and fucking die the cunts in the anus holes cunts

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 25 May 2019 @ 2:08pm

      Re: stuffed in the hole

      Yeah man it’s the those tech boys. And those internet’s that are a danger to society.
      I mean just a look at you. You don’t use it' and seem very well adjusted haha

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 May 2019 @ 11:03am

    "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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 May 2019 @ 6:30pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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