WASHINGTON, May 2, 2019 – Social media and technology platform companies are wasting the talents of a generation, addicting and impoverishing middle America, and even driving teenagers to commit suicide in record numbers, Sen. Josh Hawley said Thursday.
In a blistering speech attacking Facebook, Google, and the supposed “crown jewel” of the American economy known culturally as “Silicon Valley,” the Missouri Republican slammed Facebook’s business model, and also suggested some narrow political fixes.
“The evidence more and more strongly suggests that there is something deeply troubling, and maybe even deeply wrong, with the entire social media economy,” Hawley said.
While concurring that social media “presents so many novel problems” and that “none of them admit of easy answers,” he set his aim squarely on this bigger question: What is “the worth of these social media platforms, and the social media business, to the American economy and to American society?”
Hawley did not hide his conclusion: Facebook is pretty much worth-less.
Hawley began his critique by latching onto the basic business model of the dominant social media platforms: “attention arbitrage,” or aggregating the interests of billions of users and selling them to advertisers.
With other intermediaries, such as financial institutions engaged in arbitrage, the value of the arbitrage eventually narrows. Not so with “attention arbitrage,” said Hawley.
“How is that that the attention arbitrage is preserved and renewed?”
These companies maintain their leverage by “hijacking users’ neural circuitry. What to click and where to spend time is preserved through addiction,” said Hawley.
“Social media only works as a business model if consumers’ usage times and attention increase day after day. It needs to replace the activities we once did perfectly well – with itself,” he said.
“You don’t log on to Facebook” to reach out to friend, which he said you could easily do by calling or text messaging the friend. “You log on to Facebook to be on Facebook. The attention arbitration market becomes the destination.”
This is why, he said, Facebook owners and shareholders are no better that drug lords: “They are investing in the addiction.”
Social media is linked to loneliness, depression and teen suicide
Hawley tied Facebook and growing use of social media to loneliness, depression, and even teen suicide. He said that the surge of suicide among younger teenagers coincided with the introduction of smart phones optimized for the use of social media platforms.
“It could just be correlation, not causation,” he said. But there is a “strong correlation” between social media use and teen suicide.
And for those young people who don’t fall prey to suicide, Hawley said, social media has drained value and talent from the best and brightest, and from middle America.
“An entire generation [has succumbed to activities of] little or no productive value” in developing apps for social media, he said. As to technology talent, the tech giants are “sucking them from communities that need talent to outposts on the coasts.”
“Social media platforms might define the future of our economy, but it doesn’t value the things that matter. It produces a society that is shaped in its own image.”
‘No one answer’ to the problems wrought by social media
When it came to specific political proposals to restrain or throttle the power of such social media networks, Hawley was less specific.
He said there was “no one answer” to the many problems created by social media.
“We need to have a broader conversation about whether these business models are truly beneficial not so that we ban them, [but so that] we can decide to what we give our attention and our time.”
At a minimum, antitrust laws need to be brought to bear: “What do we need to do to make the market function in a way that is free, fair and open,” he asked.
As attorney general of Missouri before he was elected senator, Hawley initiated the first state-level antitrust inquiry of Google.
Additionally, Hawley supports privacy regulation, particularly as it related to children. He cited legislation he had introduced to ban online tracking of and advertising focused on children. It would also allow parents to hit the “eraser button” for all posts by their children, up to the age of 15.
He also criticized Silicon Valley companies for their lack of patriotism, saying that “they don’t view themselves as American,” so much as they look to their “global bottom line.” While he said he would not force them to work with the U.S. military, he did strongly criticize their cooperation with China and the Chinese military.
Changes to Section 230 may not fix the problem of powerful incumbents
Asked by this reporter about his views regarding Section 230 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, a provision that has been judicially interpreted as giving immunity from liability to internet platforms, Hawley was cautious.
On the same afternoon that Hawley was speaking, Facebook announced that it had banned an array of speakers considered by some to be extremist, including Alex Jones and Louis Farrakhan.
Hawley said that Section 230 is “predicated on [platforms] providing open, fair and free platforms. If they are not going to do that, but insert their own political biases, then they start to look a lot more like a newspaper, or TV station, but don’t qualify for Section 230.”
At the same time, limiting the scope of the existing immunity might hurt startup social platforms at the expense of Facebook and Google. “We need to make sure that [changes to Section 230 are] not a benefit to incumbency.”
Hawley spoke at the Washington outpost of the Hoover Institution, a conservative think tank based at Stanford University in the heart of Silicon Valley. Hawley is a graduate of the university’s law school.
(Photo of Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Missouri, by Drew Clark.)
Providers Call for More FCC Telehealth Funding as Demand Grows
‘I think obtaining funding from the Universal Service Fund would go a long way.’
WASHINGTON, July 26, 2022 – Health care providers in parts of America say they are struggling to deliver telehealth due to a lack of broadband connectivity in underserved communities, and recommended there be more funding from the Federal Communications Commission.
While the FCC has a $200-million COVID-19 Telehealth program, which emerged from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, some providers say more money is needed as demand for telehealth services increases.
“The need for broadband connectivity in underserved communities exceeds current availability,” said Jennifer Stoll from the Oregon Community Health Information Network.
The OCHIN was one of the largest recipients of the FCC’s Rural Health Care Pilot program in 2009. Stoll advocated for the need for more funding with the non-profit SHLB Coalition during the event last week. Panelists didn’t specify how much more funding is needed.
Stoll noted that moving forward, states need sustainable funding in this sector. “I am hoping Congress will be mindful of telehealth,” said Stoll.
“The need for telehealth and other virtual modalities will continue to grow in rural and underserved communities,” she added.
Brian Scarpelli, senior global policy counsel at ACT, the App Association, echoed the call for FCC funding from the Universal Service Fund, which subsidizes basic telecommunications services to rural areas and low-income Americans. “I think obtaining funding from the Universal Service Fund would go a long way.”
Artificial Intelligence in Healthcare Has Benefits, But Also Challenges That Must Be Rectified: Experts
The technology needs to be examined to ensure it doesn’t create inequities in healthcare, panel hears.
WASHINGTON, July 11, 2022 – While the use of artificial intelligence in healthcare has been lauded by some, experts said at an Atlantic event late last month they are concerned that inaccurate data can also hamper progress in the field.
Artificial intelligence has been used widely across the medical field to analyze relationships between medical providers and patients to improve equality of care, including providing patient risk identification, diagnostics, drug discovery and development, transcribing medical documents, and remotely treating patients.
Carol Horowitz, founder of the Mt. Sinai Institute of Health and Equity Research, argued that while AI plays a substantial role in diagnosing health problems at earlier stages, diagnosing patients more quickly, providing second opinions in diagnoses, enhancing scheduling abilities, stimulating hospital workflow, and finding drug availability for a patient as in dermatology, therapeutics, or population health, it’s not a golden ticket.
She reasoned that it “can reflect and really exaggerate inequities in our system,” negatively affecting healthcare equity among patients.
She stated that AI tools have led to inaccurate measurements in data that have proved harmful to individuals’ health. Horowitz shared the example of faulty AI technology during March 2020 meant to allow individuals to self-monitor their own oxygen levels as a precautionary method to the COVID-19 pandemic but led to inaccurate pulse readings for those with darker skin, and inaccurate data gathering, resulting in delayed treatment for many in need.
Michael Crawford, associate dean for strategy of outreach and innovation at Howard University, added that if these certain mismeasurements and flaws in the technology are not addressed, “AI could increase disparities in health care.”
Alondra Nelson, head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said when it comes to assessing AI technology innovation for the future, there are both cost and benefits, but we must find “where can we move forward in ways that don’t harm human society but that maximize human benefits.”
As we grapple with how to implement this technology, “we must do science and technology policy that always has equity at the center” for future innovation, said Nelson.
States Lagging on Bills to Implement 988 Suicide Hotline Mandate as Deadline Approaches
As of June 7, 20 states have passed legislation to implement the 988 suicide hotline mandate, according to FCC data.
WASHINGTON, June 15, 2022 – Only 20 out of the 35 states that have introduced legislation for a new suicide hotline have made the legislation law as of June 7, according to information from the Federal Communications Commission, as the July 16 implementation deadline nears.
States are required to implement the infrastructure and the funding for a 988 number that will go to the National Suicide Hotline, but only four states have passed bills to finance it, Emily Caditz, attorney advisor of the Wireline Competition Bureau under the FCC, said at a Federal Communication Bar Association event last week. Those states – Colorado, Nevada, Virginia, and Washington – fund the implementation from fees on cellphone lines.
James Wright, chief of crisis center operations at the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, suggested that “key partnerships between state and local governments” will be necessary to help states meet this deadline.
Laura Evans, director of national and state policy at Vibrant Emotional Health, said this funding will “make sure we have robust capacity for the anticipated 9-12 million contacts we expect to come in that first year.”
The commission ordered the adoption of the nationwide line nearly two years ago, on July 16, 2020.
According to the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act of 2020, “988 is designated as the universal telephone number within the United States for the purpose of the national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline system operated through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.”
“America’s suicide rate is at its highest since World War II,” said former FCC Chairman Ajit Pai at an FCC event in December of 2019. “A simple three-digit code for a suicide hotline can reduce the mental stigma surrounding mental health and ultimately save lives.
Caditz said the implementation of text messaging “is especially popular with groups that are at heightened risk of suicide or mental health crises, including teenagers and young adults and individuals who are deaf, hard of hearing, deafblind, or speech disabled.”
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