Legislating the Structure of Information Environments

Proposed legislation in the U.S. would constrain the structure of online spaces aimed at children:

Platforms either targeting a designated audience or providing covered content would be prohibited from using tactics that promote prolonged engagement such as auto-play, push alerts, or displaying “the quantity of positive engagement or feedback that a covered user has received from other users”—so no “likes” on a teen’s Instagram account. That goes for “badges or other visual award symbols” that show off engagement, such as awards for streaks on Snapchat.

The bill defines children as anyone under 16 and takes a broad lens towards what it considers content aimed at them.

I’m all for information environments that strive to more closely align the interests of their creators and their users. (This is one of the main arguments of my book, Living in Information.) This bill seems to do that for children using attention-driven information environments.

I do wish industry would adopt such measures without the need for regulations. People can be ingenious at following the letter of such laws while skirting their spirit. Also, laws change more slowly than technology and tend to stick around longer; they’re on different layers in the pace layer diagram. (But moving more slowly and deliberately in this area might not be a bad thing.)

That said, it’s good that lawmakers are paying attention. Hopefully, the threat of legislation will nudge organizations towards greater alignment with the interests of their users — especially the most vulnerable.

Proposed bill would end “likes” for young teens’ online content