RALEIGH, N.C. — Most college students aren’t spending their free time walking the halls of the state legislature, knocking on the doors of lawmakers.
Sam Hiner, however, isn’t most college students.
The UNC sophomore knows the General Assembly better than most.
“It's honestly like a really cool community,” Hiner said. “It’s sort of a small, small group of people that come to the legislature frequently, and so you start to learn people's names. And that's been a really cool part of it as well, is getting to meet all these people who really care about doing good for their community.”
For Hiner, doing good for his community means looking out for his peers when it comes to social media.
Hiner, like so many others, has found himself spending too much time on his phone and social media apps at times.
That can lead to a negative impact to the mental health of some, which is why he decided to act.
He spearheaded a piece of legislation aimed at making social media less addictive.
“That will prevent social media companies from using manipulative algorithms to keep them engaged on social media apps for longer than they intend. The big problem that we've noticed is for a lot of young people, they mean to go on these apps for like five minutes, and then next thing they know, two hours have passed, because these apps have used their massive amounts of data on their users to create platforms that are insanely addictive.”
It took a lot for Hiner and his fellow student advocates to get to this place, with House Bill 644 (Social Media Algorithmic Control in IT Act) officially introduced and sent to committees.
Hiner estimates he wrote a hundred cold emails, reaching out to lawmakers and nonprofits, trying to get his foot in the door.
Then he had to come to those meetings prepared.
“I had to learn everything there is to know about social media regulation. So when I'm talking to legislators, they have questions like, ‘How is this enforced? How is this going to be effective? What if we did this or that?’ I can answer those questions effectively,” Hiner said.
The legislation has support on both sides of the aisle in the state House, and Hiner and his fellow student advocates had the chance to stand on the House floor when the bill was introduced.
Hiner said he didn’t realize how many times he would fail when he started his advocacy, but this is the moment he’s been waiting for.
“This is the first time that something that we've entirely initiated has gotten introduced like this, especially with this much support. So I'm incredibly excited. It's like validation of what I've been working on for so long and what our team has been working on for so long,” he said.
The excitement is palpable for the group, and even though there is still a long way to go, they see the impact this bill could have.
“The idea there is that rather than getting this echo chamber where it's content that's specifically targeted towards you and a lot of times will fit with your biases or will encourage you to become even more extreme in your biases. You're warping your perception of the world. You'll just get a more unfiltered picture of reality that everybody's getting," Hiner said.