Surgeon General Demands Putting a Warning Label on Social Media Similar to That on Cigarettes

The surgeon general of the United States, Vivek Murthy, asked Congress this Monday to require a warning similar to the one that exists on products such as cigarette packages to be placed on social media platforms.

Murthy specified, in an opinion article published in The New York Times, that the mental health crisis among young people is an urgent problem, and that social networks “contribute significantly.”

The surgeon general indicated that he envisions the warning as a label warning users of the potential mental health harms of websites and apps.

“A warning label from the surgeon general, which requires Congressional intervention, would periodically remind parents and teens that social media has not been proven safe,” he wrote.

In 1965, following then-Surgeon General Luther L. Terry's landmark report linking cigarette smoking to lung cancer and heart disease, Congress required warning labels for cigarette packages, the first of which read: “Caution: Cigarette smoking can be dangerous to your health”.

Murthy stated in the op-ed: “Evidence on tobacco labeling shows that surgeon general warnings can increase awareness and change behavior.”

However, he also recognized the limitations and assured that a label alone would not make social networks safe.

Congress, the companies behind social media, parents and others involved can take steps to mitigate risks, ensure a safer online experience and protect children from potential harm, he wrote.

In the op-ed, Murthy linked the amount of time spent on social media to the increased risk of children experiencing anxiety and depression.

The American Psychological Association stated that adolescents spend almost five hours a day on platforms such as YouTube, TikTok and Instagram. In a 2019 study, that body found that the proportion of young adults with suicidal thoughts or other similar effects increased 47% from 2008 to 2017, when social media use skyrocketed among that group.

And that was before the pandemic triggered greater virtual isolation in the United States. In early 2021, amid COVID-19 lockdowns, Murthy called on social media platforms to “proactively improve and contribute to the mental health and well-being of our children.”

In January, at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the impact of social media on young people, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg apologized to parents who reported that Instagram contributed to the suicide or abuse of their children.

“I am very sorry for everything they have been through,” he said. “It's awful. “No one should have to go through what their families have suffered.”

US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy

“I am very sorry for everything they have been through,” he said. “It's awful. “No one should have to go through what their families have suffered.”

A public health warning issued by the surgeon general on mental health and social media published last year cited research that said its potential harms included exposure to violent and sexual content and bullying, harassment and humiliation about personal appearance.

“Social media use is jeopardizing too many children's sleep and the valuable time they spend in person with their family and friends,” Murthy said when announcing the health recommendation.

At a conference on the youth mental health crisis last month, Murthy insisted: “It is no longer part of the culture for people to talk to each other.”

Murthy has been careful to point out that research on the impact of social media is inconclusive, with much of it finding correlations between time spent online and negative effects on mental health, but without establishing cause and effect. effect.

“More research is needed to fully understand the impact of social networks,” he said in 2023.

He has even recognized that social networks can help teenagers find companionship, connection and a place to express themselves.

The companies responsible for the world's most popular social media platforms have not yet responded to the surgeon general's op-ed.

If you or someone you know may be at risk, to the number of the suicide prevention line, which offers free support, and confidential 24 hours a day, seven days a week.