Opinion: Josh Hawley is waging a pointless war on your phone

Alex Rozar, Opinions Editor

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Artwork Courtesy of Malayka Walton
Missouri senator Josh Hawley’s new SMART Act would get rid of Snapchat’s Snapstreaks, which places a fire emoji next to a friend’s name.

America is in a tough place right now. In 2019 alone, there have been over 251 mass shootings—more than one for every day of the year. The UN estimates that there are only 11 years left to prevent “irreversible damage from climate change.” The U.S. spends much more on healthcare than any other developed country while receiving much less, and there are still migrants facing terrible treatment at camps along the southern border.

So what is Missouri senator Josh Hawley focused on in this tumultuous time? Snapstreaks, of course.

If Hawley has his way, the frivolous Snapchat feature, which places a little fire emoji next to a friend’s name and totals the consecutive days you’ve talked to them, would be made illegal. Also on Hawley’s chopping block: infinite scroll on sites like Twitter, Facebook and Reddit, autoplay videos and anything else Congress deems is made to “exploit” users.

All of these provisions come under his proposed Social Media Addiction Reduction Technology (SMART) Act, which would also automatically limit social media usage to 30 minutes per day. Users can modify these limits, but they would reset back to 30 minutes at the start of every month.

It’s Hawley’s latest in a series of quixotic crusades against Big Tech, following bills seeking to end video game loot boxes, ban ads targeted to children and force YouTube, Twitter and Facebook to manually review everything uploaded to their sites—an impossible task. For context, YouTube alone currently uploads 65 years of video content every day.

Nevertheless, Hawley has managed to carve out a unique niche for himself in the Senate. As its youngest member, he’s masqueraded as a tech whiz kid in stark opposition to some of his visibly out-of-touch fellow members of Congress. Even notable tech blogs like WIRED have fallen for his trap, labeling Hawley as “chief among [a] new breed of would-be Silicon Valley reformers.”

Suffice it to say, Josh Hawley does not care for reform. He wants control.

This is made blatantly clear by his comments off the Senate floor, the things even Hawley knows should never make it into legislation. These include propagating the myth that tech companies like Facebook are purging conservative content from their sites—a claim which has been repeatedly proven false—and going so far as to question whether those companies should “exist at all.”

Hawley is—as of right now—an anomaly in the Republican Party. He rejects the traditional Reaganite principles of self-determination, limited government and laissez-faire economics that have served as such a boon to the Republican Party at the ballot box in favor of an entirely new path built on harsh regulation, both for social media companies and for users.

Quite simply, it appears the self-described “national conservative” is, in practice, hardly a conservative at all. Right-wing media outlets, such as the Washington Examiner and the Wall Street Journal, have taken aim at him over this.

“Who is this guy—and why does he think he can micromanage a trillion-dollar industry?” Andy Kessler wrote for WSJ. “Mr. Hawley’s new bill has all the worst instincts of the regulatory state—a disappointing achievement coming from a Republican.”

That desire for regulation doesn’t make Hawley a progressive, however. The SMART Act would not make any measurable societal progress—rather, it would chip away at essential freedoms for no real gain. The bill makes no distinction between adults and children, and there is still little scientific evidence that the threat of gamification on the brain Hawley warns about has any basis in fact.

In this case, overregulation is not the answer. There are some legitimate concerns to be had about Big Tech—privacy issues, for one, though the government’s hands are far from clean on that subject. Yet in trying to make in a name for himself in Washington, it seems as if Hawley is embarking on the most useless quest ever.

We need a senator who will stand up for the best interests of both our state and our country. Josh Hawley is clearly doing neither, choosing to focus on petty, unwinnable battles instead of the issues that matter.