Surgeon General Wants Tobacco-Style Warnings For Teens On Social Media

The U.S. surgeon general is voicing his concerns over social media use in young people. In an essay published in “The New York Times” yesterday, Dr. Vivek Murthy calls for a warning label like those used on cigarettes and alcohol, but for social media platforms. He writes, "The mental health crisis among young people is an emergency -- and social media has emerged as an important contributor."

Murthy proposes that a health warning could help, pointing out the success of surgeon general’s warning labels on cigarettes that Congress required starting in the 1960s. “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,” he writes. The surgeon general also asks for congressional action to “remind parents and adolescents that social media has not been proven safe.”

While Murthy notes that “a warning label would not, on its own make social media safe for young people,” he points out that the “priority should be for “policymakers, platforms and the pubic” to make platforms safer for kids. “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," he writes. “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.”

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