Surgeon General Urges Safety Labels for Young People on Social Media

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy is pushing for a warning label on social media platforms to alert users that social media has been linked to mental health risks for adolescents.

Murthy in an op-ed for The New York Times called for the placement of a surgeon general warning label on social media platforms, similar to the warning labels found on tobacco and alcohol products. He noted that studies have shown that warning labels appear on tobacco products can increase awareness and change a user's behavior.

“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,” he wrote.

“A surgeon general's warning label, which requires congressional action, would provide regular reminders to parents and adolescents that social media has not proven to be safe,” he added.

He also wrote that a warning label alone would not make social media platforms safer for young people. He referred to an advisory he issued last year warning that social media is contributing to the mental crisis of young people, and advised policymakers, platforms and members of the public to heed his recommendations to make social media safer for adolescents.

Murthy called for legislation from Congress that would “protect young people from online harassment, abuse and exploitation and from exposure to extreme violence and sexual content.” He also said social media companies should share their data with the public and allow independent security audits.

He also advised schools and parents to create phone-free environments, especially around mealtimes, just before bedtime and at social events. He wrote that parents should wait until their children graduate from high school before using social media, and suggested working with other families to create shared rules.

“This damage is not the result of a lack of willpower and parenting; they result from the unleashing of powerful technology without adequate security measures, transparency or accountability,” he wrote.

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