Surgeon General Calls for Warning Labels on Social Media Apps

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TL/DR –

Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy has called for Congress to require warning labels on social media apps due to the risk they pose to children’s mental health. He cites data suggesting that teenagers who spend more than three hours a day on social media double their risk of depression and that over 95% of children use social media. Despite years of public criticism and calls to action, tech companies and Congress have taken little action to reduce children’s social media usage, prompting Murthy’s plea for urgent legislation.


Surgeon General Calls for Action on Social Media’s Threat to Children

Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy has called for urgent action to counter social media’s threat to children, urging Congress to enforce app warnings similar to those on cigarettes and alcohol. “The mental health crisis among young people is an emergency — and social media has become a significant contributor,” Murthy said in his New York Times op-ed.

He referred to a 2019 American Medical Association study that showed a doubled risk of depression among teens spending three hours each day on social media. According to a Gallup poll, teens average nearly five hours daily on these platforms.

Murthy noted that social media use is almost universal among children, with over 95% prevalence. However, he acknowledged that he alone can’t enforce app warnings. The mandate would have to come from Congress, to whom he made a fervent plea for legislative action.

“I believe it’s vital that parents are aware of the significant harms associated with social media use,” Murthy explained. He paralleled the situation with the gradual decline in American cigarette smoking after tobacco warning labels were introduced in 1965.

Despite repeated criticisms of social media companies by Congress for their perceived harm to children, there has been limited action to reduce children’s social media use. Murthy stressed that it’s time for Congress to seriously address this issue.

Without conclusive evidence of social media’s safety and future change assurance, Murthy believes parents deserve to be warned. He hopes for swift legislation to attach a Surgeon General warning label on social media.

Dr. Murthy has long warned about the damage social media inflicts on children’s welfare. His recent declaration of an emergency and appeal to Congress signify his most urgent call to action yet on this matter.

In 2023, Murthy issued an advisory stating the lack of sufficient evidence to deem social media safe for children and adolescents’ mental health. He warned of “a profound risk of harm” coming from children’s social media use.

Murthy has suggested parents limit their kids’ social media use, stating that age 13 is too young for social apps. However, such advisories merely draw attention to pressing public health issues without necessitating action.

In June 2023, on CNN’s “Chasing Life” podcast with Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Murthy shared tips to help parents control their children’s social media usage. He also advocated for collaboration among parents to prevent children from feeling singled out without social media access.

While a warning label could help if instituted, Murthy admitted it wouldn’t be a comprehensive solution. He suggested making schools, dinner time, and family events phone-free environments, and recommended limiting children’s social media use until after middle school.

States have attempted to increase the minimum age for social apps usage and regulate their addictive features. Some have passed largely bipartisan bills, such as Florida’s ban on social media accounts for children under 14 without parental consent and New York’s ban on algorithm use in children’s feeds.

Murthy believes collaborative efforts among parents to set common rules can ease individual struggles and guilt. He confirmed that alcohol and cigarettes are currently the only products carrying surgeon general warning labels. However, he considered the overall health risk posed by social media on children to be “just as profound.”

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