Legislation would require social media platforms to implement features to address social media addiction and combat harmful use

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) introduced bipartisan legislation to address negative impacts of social media. The Nudging Users to Drive Good Experiences on Social Media (Social Media NUDGE) Act would establish studies to examine and recommend interventions to reduce addiction and the amplification of harmful content on social media platforms. Following the initial study, the legislation would hold platforms accountable for following through on recommendations.

“For too long, tech companies have said ‘Trust us, we’ve got this.’ But we know that social media platforms have repeatedly put profits over people, with algorithms pushing dangerous content that hooks users and spreads misinformation. This bill will help address these practices, including by implementing changes that increase transparency and improve user experience. It’s past time to pass meaningful reforms that address social media’s harms to our communities head-on,” said Klobuchar.

“The NUDGE Act is a good step toward fully addressing Big Tech overreach,” said Lummis. “By empowering the National Science Foundation and the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to study the addictiveness of social media platforms, we’ll begin to fully understand the impact the designs of these platforms and their algorithms have on our society. From there, we can build guardrails to protect children in Wyoming from the negative effects of social media. We can build a healthier internet without the federal government dictating what people can and can’t say.”

“Public Knowledge supports this legislation because it encourages informed decision-making to address a known problem: the promotion of misinformation. The bill empowers the National Science Foundation to study tools to reduce the spread of misinformation as well as the FTC to engage the public in developing rules to provide a healthier internet, giving the public a voice in the process. It also provides for consumer-facing transparency reporting. Most importantly, the bill does all this without tying compliance to Section 230 immunity. As Public Knowledge has often advocated -- to address harms, focus on the harms, not Section 230,” said Greg Guice, Director of Government Affairs at Public Knowledge.

“The NUDGE act has the potential to make online spaces meaningfully safer for all users by kickstarting research into content-agnostic interventions and incentivizing digital platforms to implement interventions that research demonstrates to be effective. This research-driven approach to improving online safety is the first step to reducing harm to vulnerable users such as kids and teens, while still putting the free-speech rights of users first,” said Laura Edelson, Lead Researcher at the NYU Cybersecurity for Democracy and NYU PhD Candidate in Computer Science.

Research on social media addiction continues to paint a grim picture. Facebook's own internal research found that “Young people are acutely aware that Instagram can be bad for their mental health, yet are compelled to spend time on the app for fear of missing out on cultural or social trends,” and a 2018 Pew Research Center survey found that 54 percent of teens say they spend too much time on their cell phones.

The Social Media NUDGE Act would:

  • Direct the National Science Foundation (NSF) to work with the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) to conduct a study to identify content-neutral interventions – like asking users if they want to read an article before sharing it – for social media platforms to implement to reduce social media addiction and the spread of harmful content;
  • Require:
    • The NASEM to report the study’s findings, including recommendations of which interventions are relevant to specific social media platforms, to the NSF, Congress and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and to update the study’s findings biannually;
    • The FTC to conduct a rulemaking on how to apply the findings to platforms; and
    • Social media platforms to implement recommendations and publicly disclose information about their compliance, the impact of the interventions, and other statistics related to required changes and content on their platforms.
  • Hold social media platforms accountable by treating violations as unfair or deceptive acts or practices. Enforcement will be handled by the FTC. 

Klobuchar, a senior member of the Senate Commerce Committee and Chairwoman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust, and Consumer Rights, is a leading voice on taking on big tech platforms to protect users and competition. 

At a Commerce Committee hearing in December, Klobuchar highlighted the urgent need for reforms to social media as Instagram profits off of kids’ and teenagers’ data. At different Commerce Committee hearings the same month, Klobuchar called for increased transparency into algorithms on social media and for updated antitrust laws to spur innovation, protect consumers, and stop dominant digital platforms from treating small businesses and entrepreneurs unfairly.

Klobuchar also demanded answers from Snapchat, TikTok, and YouTube representatives about how the tech platforms profit off of young users and address misinformation at a Commerce Committee hearing in October.

Earlier in October Klobuchar participated in a hearing with Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, where she questioned Haugen on the company’s research showing that Instagram increased teen girls’ thoughts of suicide, approach to combating coronavirus vaccine misinformation, and treatment of internal and external researchers, and called for federal policies to rein in the power of big tech companies through antitrust and privacy legislation. 

She also questioned Haugen about how Facebook’s algorithms push pro-eating disorder content to vulnerable populations, including teenage girls. Following the hearing, Klobuchar and Senators Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) sent a letter to Facebook expressing their concerns about this issue. Klobuchar had previously pressed Facebook’s Global Head of Safety Antigone Davis on this internal research at a hearing in September, where he admitted that the company knew about the findings but did not immediately take actions to protect teens.

Along with Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Klobuchar introduced bipartisan legislation to restore competition online by establishing commonsense rules of the road for dominant digital platforms to prevent them from abusing their market power to harm competition, online businesses, and consumers.

In August, Klobuchar and Senator John Thune (R-SD) sent a letter to TikTok requesting information about the company’s collection of consumer biometric data.

Last year Klobuchar introduced the Competition and Antitrust Law Enforcement Reform Actsweeping legislation to reinvigorate America’s antitrust laws and restore competition to American markets. The bill will give federal enforcers the resources they need to do their jobs, strengthen prohibitions on anticompetitive conduct and mergers, and make additional reforms to improve enforcement.