A new bipartisan bill introduced Wednesday would give the Federal Trade Commission power over how social media companies like Meta design their platforms in an attempt to prevent the amplification of harmful content and curb social media addiction.
The Social Media NUDGE Act, first reported by The Verge, instructs the National Science Foundation and the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine to come up with "content neutral" approaches to adding friction to social media platforms, then tasks the FTC with codifying and mandating those approaches.
Tech platforms would also be required to share information about their compliance with the rules and the impact of the interventions. Failure to do so would constitute unfair and deceptive practices, which the FTC already polices.
"We know that social media platforms have repeatedly put profits over people, with algorithms pushing dangerous content that hooks users and spreads misinformation,” Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar said in a statement. Klobuchar co-sponsored the bill with Republican Sen. Cynthia Lummis.
The bill as is unique among other efforts to stop harmful content from spreading online in that it doesn't focus on one category of content or another, but instead, how that content spreads. Tech platforms have already been experimenting with adding "friction" to their systems. Twitter has been urging people to reconsider their mean tweets, for instance, and the company's internal research has found it to be an effective approach. Facebook has given group moderators tools that allow them to limit comments from troublesome users when conversations get overheated.
Public Knowledge, one of the groups supporting the bill, said in a statement that it supports the Nudge Act because it doesn't require taking away Section 230 immunity.
NYU researcher Laura Edelson, who has gone to battle with Facebook over researcher access to data, also said she also supports it. "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,” Edelson said in a statement.
The bill comes as the Senate is simultaneously working on chipping away at Section 230 immunity when it comes to online child exploitation through the Earn It Act, which passed out of the Judiciary Committee on Thursday.
This story was updated on Feb. 11, 2022 to include a PDF of the bill.