US Surgeon General wants social media warning labels

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US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has called for smoking-style warning labels to be placed on social media platforms to address the mental health risks they pose to children. In an article for the New York Times, Murthy highlighted the growing concern that social media usage is linked to increased anxiety and depression among adolescents.

Murthy’s proposal includes displaying messages on social media platforms warning users of the potential mental health harms associated with their use. He believes these labels would serve as regular reminders for parents and adolescents about the unproven safety of social media.

The idea of warning labels is not new. In 1966, the US added warning labels to cigarette packaging following a report by then-Surgeon General Luther L. Terry linking tobacco to lung cancer. Similar labels were mandated in the UK in 1971. Murthy argues that these labels increased awareness of smoking risks and hopes to achieve a similar effect with social media warnings.

Murthy’s call to action follows a public health advisory he issued in 2023, which found a correlation between teenage social media use and poor mental health. Although there is no academic consensus on the impact of social media, Murthy emphasizes the urgency of the mental health crisis among young people, advocating for immediate action based on available evidence.

In addition to warning labels, Murthy suggests banning phone use in schools and limiting device use during meals and at bedtime. He believes these measures would help mitigate the negative impact of social media on children’s mental health.

The impact of social media on young people remains a contentious issue. Some studies have linked heavy social media use to negative mental health outcomes, while others suggest that it can be beneficial, particularly for maintaining friendships. The American Psychological Association states that social media is not inherently beneficial or harmful but warns of problematic use and encourages the removal of harmful content.

In the UK, the upcoming Online Safety Act will require tech firms to implement robust age-checking measures and steer children away from harmful material. Parents of children who have died after exposure to online content argue that these regulations need to go further to protect young users.

 

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