Social media platforms should have health warnings for teens, US surgeon general says

Social media platforms should post warning labels, similar to those now used on cigarette packs, for teens who are increasingly suffering from mental health issues linked in part to the apps, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said in a statement Monday. op-ed in the New York Times.

“It is time to demand a surgeon general warning label on social media platforms stating that social media has been linked to significant harm to adolescent mental health,” Murthy wrote.

The push would be similar to the warnings printed on cigarette packs, which Murthy noted “raise awareness and change behavior.” However, adding warning labels to social media platforms would require Congress to pass legislation, he noted.

Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Murthy has previously highlighted the potential harm teens face from social media platforms, which he pushed for last year stronger guidelines for children and teens, amid growing research showing the apps pose a “profound risk” to young people's mental health, as he described at the time. On Monday, Murthy noted that warning labels alone would not make the platforms safe for children and said creating safety measures “remains the priority.”

Congress should also implement legislation that protects young people from online harassment, abuse and exploitation and from exposure to extreme violence and sexual content, he wrote.

“The measures should prevent platforms from collecting sensitive data from children and limit the use of features such as push notifications, autoplay and infinite scrolling, which affect brain development and contribute to overuse,” Murthy said.

The surgeon general also recommends that companies be required to share all their health impact data with independent scientists and the public – which they currently do not do – and allow independent safety audits.

Murthy said schools and parents should also help provide phone-free times and doctors, nurses and other clinicians should help families adopt safer practices.

—With reporting by the Associated Press.

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