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Tech experts launch campaign against social media addiction

By
Ray Downs
Chinese students use their smartphones while commuting to school on a subway in Beijing on September 13, 2017. File Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI
Chinese students use their smartphones while commuting to school on a subway in Beijing on September 13, 2017. File Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo

Feb. 5 (UPI) -- A group of former employees from some of the biggest companies in tech have banded together to preach the ills of having too much technology in our lives.

The Center for Humane Technology, founded by Tristan Harris, a former ethicist at Google, has launched a lobbying effort with media watchdog group Common Sense Media to build awareness about tech addiction, The New York Times reported.

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The $7 million ad campaign is expected to target 55,000 public schools across the country.

"There's an invisible problem that's affecting all of society," CHT says on its website. "Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Google have produced amazing products that have benefited the world enormously. But these companies are also caught in a zero-sum race for our finite attention, which they need to make money. Constantly forced to outperform their competitors, they must use increasingly persuasive techniques to keep us glued. They point AI-driven news feeds, content, and notifications at our minds, continually learning how to hook us more deeply-from our own behavior."

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CHT says each of the largest social media sites can make people's lives worse in their own way. "Snapchat turns conversations into streaks, redefining how our children measure friendship," the group says. "Instagram glorifies the picture-perfect life, eroding our self worth. Facebook segregates us into echo chambers, fragmenting our communities. YouTube autoplays the next video within seconds, even if it eats into our sleep. These are not neutral products. They are part of a system designed to addict us."

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Harris says the people associated with his organization and should know because they worked at those companies.

"We were on the inside," he told The Times. "We know what the companies measure. We know how they talk, and we know how the engineering works."

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Jim Steyer, the CEO of Common Sense Media, said on Twitter that the Truth About Tech campaign "will initially focus on legislation at the [federal] level."

Steyer said Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., is working on introducing legislation that would fund research about the effects of technology ad social media on children's brains.

Common Sense Media said its campaign is "modeled on anti-smoking drives and focuses on kids due to their vulnerability."

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