Big Tech /

Surgeon General Calls for Social Media Platforms to Come with Mental Health Warning Labels

Surgeon General Calls for Social Media Platforms to Come with Mental Health Warning Labels

United States Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has called for social media platforms to have mental health warning labels, at minimum.

Murthy made his argument in an op-ed published in the New York Times on Monday.

"The mental health crisis among young people is an emergency — and social media has emerged as an important contributor," Murthy wrote. "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."

Murthy went on to state, "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. A surgeon general’s warning label, which requires congressional action, would regularly remind parents and adolescents that social media has not been proved safe. Evidence from tobacco studies show that warning labels can increase awareness and change behavior. When asked if a warning from the surgeon general would prompt them to limit or monitor their children’s social media use, 76 percent of people in one recent survey of Latino parents said yes."

A warning label would not be enough on its own, Murthy argued, but it would be a good place to start.

Last year, Murthy issued an advisory with specific recommendations to make social media safer for youth.

Legislation from Congress should shield young people from online harassment, abuse and exploitation and from exposure to extreme violence and sexual content that too often appears in algorithm-driven feeds. The measures should prevent platforms from collecting sensitive data from children and should restrict the use of features like push notifications, autoplay and infinite scroll, which prey on developing brains and contribute to excessive use.

"Additionally, companies must be required to share all of their data on health effects with independent scientists and the public — currently they do not — and allow independent safety audits," the surgeon general wrote. "While the platforms claim they are making their products safer, Americans need more than words. We need proof."

Beyond legislation, Murthy urged schools to make social time "phone-free experiences" and parents to do the same at home during times like dinner and the hours before bed.

Murthy wrote, "One of the worst things for a parent is to know your children are in danger yet be unable to do anything about it. That is how parents tell me they feel when it comes to social media — helpless and alone in the face of toxic content and hidden harms. I think about Lori, a woman from Colorado who fought back tears as she told me about her teenage daughter, who took her life after being bullied on social media. Lori had been diligent, monitoring her daughter’s accounts and phone daily, but harm still found her child."

The op-ed pointed out that it is now parents trying to navigate against "some of the best product engineers and most well-resourced companies in the world" to keep their kids safe online,

"The moral test of any society is how well it protects its children. Students like Tina and mothers like Lori do not want to be told that change takes time, that the issue is too complicated or that the status quo is too hard to alter. We have the expertise, resources and tools to make social media safe for our kids. Now is the time to summon the will to act. Our children’s well-being is at stake."

*For corrections please email [email protected]*