US Surgeon General Calls For Warning Labels On Social Media

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US surgeon general calls for cigarette-style warning labels to be shown on social media advising of ‘mental health harms’

The US surgeon general has called for warning labels to be included on social media platforms, similar to those attached to cigarettes and other tobacco products, as a step toward addressing a mental health “emergency” amongst young people.

Writing in the New York Times, surgeon general Vivek Murthy said he wants a warning message on social media platforms informing those who use them that they are “associated with significant mental health harms for adolescents”.

This would “regularly remind parents and adolescents that social media has not been proved safe”, Murthy wrote.

He said policy makers should take additional steps as well to make social media platforms safer for children and teenagers.

US surgeon general Vivek Murthy. Image credit: US government
US surgeon general Vivek Murthy. Image credit: US government

Health data

Murthy called on lawmakers to oblige technology companies to share health data associated with social media, support funding for future research and other initiatives.

He said warning labels would be a first step that would encourage parents to monitor their child’s safety online.

In the same article Murthy said phone use should be banned in schools and that parents should restrict their use during meals and at bedtime.

Murthy published a public health advisory last year over the link between teenage social media use and poor mental health.

He acknowledged that there is no academic consensus over the impact of social platforms, but said it was necessary to act now.

“In an emergency, you don’t have the luxury to wait for perfect information,” Murthy said.

“You assess the available facts, you use your best judgment, and you act quickly.

“The mental health crisis among young people is an emergency – and social media has emerged as an important contributor.”

Social harms

About 95 percent of people between the ages of 13 and 17 use social media platforms such as Facebook, TikTok and Instagram, with a Gallup poll last year finding young people in the US spent more than four hours a day on such services.

In February the chief executives of Facebook parent Meta Platforms, TikTok and X faced often aggressive questioning from lawmakers in the US Congress over their perceived failure to protect young people.

Last October Meta Platforms was hit with a lawsuit from dozens of US states, which allege that Instagram and Facebook are harming children’s mental health with deliberate designs features on Instagram and Facebook that addict children to its platforms.