Surgeon General calls for social media health safety warnings

by ian

The U.S. Surgeon General is taking mental health warnings about social media to a whole new level.

In an opinion piece for The New York Times, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy makes the case that social media should come with a warning from his office. He writes:

The mental health crisis among young people is an emergency — and social media has emerged as an important contributor. Adolescents who spend more than three hours a day on social media face double the risk of anxiety and depression symptoms, and the average daily use in this age group, as of the summer of 2023, was 4.8 hours. Additionally, nearly half of adolescents say social media makes them feel worse about their bodies.

 

It is time to require a surgeon general’s warning label on social media platforms, stating that social media is associated with significant mental health harms for adolescents.

This would put social media outlets on par with products such as cigarettes. Citing studies from the Department of Health and Human Services, Murthy notes that such labels on tobacco can increase awareness and even “change behavior.”

In a similar vein, Murthy cites other research that showed 76% of Latino parents are willing to limit or monitor social media use upon seeing a health warning.

However, Murthy recognizes that a label “on its own” does not “make social media safe for young people.” Instead, Murthy referenced an advisory that he issued years ago. This advisory contains recommendations for policymakers, parents and social media companies.

For policymakers, Murthy suggests stronger protections and developing health and safety standards for accessing such sites. He also suggests more data privacy for children and having tech companies share data relevant to the health impact of their platforms.

Speaking of the companies, Murthy says companies should remain transparent in how their products affect children and teens. For parents, Murthy suggests creating a family media plan and maintaining an open conversation on their child’s social media use.

Surgeon General warnings are not issued by decree, and warning labels require legislative action from Congress. Both federal and state governments have been adamant about trying to regulate the power that social media giants like Meta and X wield, but it isn’t clear if this is a priority in the current Congress.

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