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Time For A Surgeon General Warning On Social Media, Says Top Health Official

The U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy calls on Congress to require warning labels on social media platforms due to their potential mental health impacts on young people. In an opinion piece published Monday in The New York Times, Murthy cites evidence that social media contributes to the ongoing youth mental health crisis.

“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,” writes Murthy. He points to the precedent of warning labels on tobacco products increasing public awareness and influencing behavior change.

Murthy acknowledges that warning labels alone won’t make social media safe for young users, but labels represent a critical first step. The piece references data from the Pew Research Center showing up to 95% of teens ages 13-17 use social media platforms, with over a third reporting “almost constant” usage.

Josh Golin, executive director at Fairplay, an organization working to end marketing to children, supports Murthy’s proposal. “Social media today is like tobacco decades ago: It’s a product whose business model depends on addicting kids,” says Golin.

However, implementing such warning requirements would necessitate congressional action. Despite bipartisan concern around youth online safety, evidenced by recent hearings, the last federal law addressing child internet protection dates back to 1998—before major platforms like Facebook launched.

Dr. Jenny Radesky, a developmental pediatrician at the University of Michigan, believes warning labels should accompany broader regulatory efforts to improve social media safety, privacy, and design for kids, following steps taken in the UK and EU.

The tech industry raises objections. Adam Kovacevich, CEO of the Chamber of Progress, a policy group, states, “Putting a warning label on online speech isn’t just scientifically unsound; it’s at odds with the constitutional right to free speech.” He argues that many teens view social media as an important social outlet.

Last year, Murthy questioned whether enough evidence exists to deem social media safe for youth. He advocated then for policymakers to regulate social platforms’ child impacts similar to car seats and other child-focused products.

While platforms prohibit under-13 signups, children frequently circumvent these bans. Other youth protection efforts, like TikTok’s 60-minute daily time limit, also prove easy to bypass.

The Surgeon General encourages schools, parents, and medical professionals to institute phone-free periods and provide guidance on safer social media habits for families.

Cecilia Carloni, Interview Manager at Influence Weekly and writer for NetInfluencer. Coming from beautiful Argentina, Ceci has spent years chatting with big names in the influencer world, making friends and learning insider info along the way. When she’s not deep in interviews or writing, she's enjoying life with her two daughters. Ceci’s stories give a peek behind the curtain of influencer life, sharing the real and interesting tales from her many conversations with movers and shakers in the space.

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