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Are Facebook, Google, Twitter Manipulating Users? Washington Wants to Know

December 27, 2017, 11:28 PM UTC

Are social media giants Google, Twitter, and Facebook intentionally manipulating their users so that they keep coming back for the likes, thumbs ups, and comments?

And are their actions any different than in any other industry?

Some on Capitol Hill also want to know, according to a Wednesday report from Axios. A November briefing organized by a member of Sen. Mark Warner’s (D-Va.) office explored whether social media companies were deliberately—and crucially, unethically—designing their sites to be addictive.

“Drawing on behavioral psychology research, many technology platforms actively condition user behavior, designing (and refining) products to be intentionally habit-forming,” the briefing invite reportedly reads. “But these developments also raise important questions related to consumer protection, fake news/misinformation, antitrust/competition, and privacy.”

The meeting, which featured former Google design ethicist Tristan Harris, who has argued that Silicon Valley deliberately plays on consumer psychology, comes at a time when tech giants are already in hot water on Capitol Hill. Google, Twitter and Facebook face scrutiny in Washington for allowing ads backed by Russia on their platforms during the 2016 elections.

At the same time, consumers are spending more time than before on social media. According to a Nielsen report, Americans 18 and over spent about 5 hours and 30 minutes a week on social media in 2016, up 36% from a year earlier.