Genius! Surgeon General Pushes for Warning Labels on…Social Media? LOL!

Written by Matthew Collins.

In a recent opinion piece published in the New York Times, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy urged Congress to mandate warning labels on social media platforms. These labels would be similar to those found on cigarette packs, highlighting the significant mental health risks associated with social media use among young people.

Murthy emphasized that such warnings are crucial in raising awareness among parents and adolescents about the potential dangers of social media. “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,” Murthy wrote. He further explained that evidence from tobacco studies shows warning labels can effectively increase awareness and change behavior.

However, Murthy acknowledged that warning labels alone would not make social media safe for young people. He suggested that these labels should be part of a broader set of measures to protect youth from the negative impacts of social media.

The Impact of Social Media on Youth

The prevalence of social media use among teenagers is alarmingly high, with up to 95% of youth aged 13 to 17 reporting they use social media, and more than a third saying they use it “almost constantly,” according to data from the Pew Research Center. Last year, Murthy highlighted the lack of evidence proving social media’s safety for children and teens, urging policymakers to address its harms as they do with other products like car seats and baby formula.

Although federal regulations prohibit children under 13 from signing up for social media, many easily bypass these restrictions with or without parental consent. Other measures, such as TikTok’s default 60-minute time limit for users under 18, can also be easily circumvented by simply entering a passcode to continue usage.

Murthy stressed the urgent need to address the adverse effects of social media on young people, comparing the situation to the harms posed by unsafe cars, planes, or food. “These harms are not a failure of willpower and parenting; they are the consequence of unleashing powerful technology without adequate safety measures, transparency or accountability,” he wrote.

Legislative Measures and International Comparisons

In January, the CEOs of major social media companies, including Meta, TikTok, and X, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee. They faced questions about whether they were doing enough to protect young users. The executives pointed to existing safety tools and their collaboration with nonprofits and law enforcement to safeguard minors.

Murthy insisted that Congress needs to pass legislation to shield young people from online harassment, abuse, and exposure to extreme violence and sexual content. He also called for preventing social media platforms from collecting sensitive data from children and limiting features like push notifications, auto play, and infinite scroll, which contribute to excessive use.

Moreover, Murthy recommended that social media companies be required to share their data on health effects with independent scientists and the public, and allow for independent safety audits. He also urged schools and parents to implement phone-free times and encouraged healthcare professionals to guide families towards safer practices.

While Murthy advocates for stronger regulations in the U.S., the European Union has already implemented stringent digital rules with the Digital Services Act (DSA). This legislation aims to protect users online by making it harder to spread illegal content and safeguarding citizens’ rights such as privacy and free speech. Violations can result in fines up to 6% of global revenue or even a ban from the EU.

Our Take

The Surgeon General’s call for warning labels on social media platforms is a necessary step in addressing the mental health crisis among young people. The pervasive use of social media and its associated risks require immediate action to protect our youth. Implementing these warning labels, along with stricter regulations on data collection and content exposure, is essential to safeguarding their mental well-being. It’s time for Congress to prioritize the health of our children and hold social media companies accountable for their impact on society.

Trending Stories:

Our Sponsors: