Surgeon General Wants Warnings on Social Media

Vivek Murthy says online platforms pose risks for kids, teens; he wants Congress to act
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jun 17, 2024 11:27 AM CDT
Surgeon General: Time for Health Warnings on Social Media
Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy discusses the importance of social connection to our mental and physical well-being with actor Matthew McConaughey, not seen at right, on Nov. 8 in Austin, Texas.   (Ricardo B. Brazziell/Austin American-Statesman via AP, File)

The US surgeon general has called on Congress to require warning labels on social media platforms, similar to those now mandatory on packs of cigarettes. In a Monday opinion piece in the New York Times, Dr. Vivek Murthy said that social media is a contributing factor in the mental health crisis among young people, per the AP. "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," Murthy wrote. "A surgeon general's warning label, which requires congressional action, would regularly remind parents and adolescents that social media has not been proved safe." Murthy added: "Evidence from tobacco studies show that warning labels can increase awareness and change behavior."

The nation's top doctor said that the use of just a warning label wouldn't make social media safe for young people, but that it would be a part of the steps needed. Up to 95% of youth ages 13 to 17 say they use a social media platform, and more than a third say they use social media "almost constantly," per 2022 data from the Pew Research Center. Last year, Murthy warned that there wasn't enough evidence to show that social media is safe for children and teens. He said at the time that policymakers needed to address the harms of social media the same way they regulate things like car seats, baby formula, medication, and other products that children use.

To comply with federal regulation, social media companies already ban kids under 13 from signing up for their platforms—but children have been shown to easily get around the bans, both with and without their parents' consent. Murthy is also recommending that companies be required to share all their data on health effects with independent scientists and the public, which they currently don't do, and allow independent safety audits. Murthy said schools and parents also need to participate in providing phone-free times.

(More social media stories.)

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