US Surgeon General says that social media, like cigarettes, should come with warning labels

The US Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, says that social media should come with warning labels about its potential health impacts much like warnings on cigarettes and other tobacco products. In an op-ed in The New York Times, Murthy says that social media is an “important contributor” to the teen mental health crisis.

“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. “A surgeon general’s warning label, which requires congressional action, would regularly remind parents and adolescents that social media has not been proved safe.”

It’s not the first time Murthy has raised mental health concerns surrounding social media. Last year, he issued an advisory that made similar arguments last year, saying that social media posed a “profound risk” to teen mental health. In his latest op-ed, Murthy cited a study showing that higher social media use was associated with an increased risk for anxiety and depression, as well as a survey where almost half of teens reported that “social media makes them feel worse about their bodies.”

As Murthy notes, warning labels can’t happen without cooperation from Congress. And it’s unclear what kind of support he might have for such a measure, though lawmakers around the country have shown some support for things like age verification laws as they look to crack down on social media companies over teen safety issues.

He also points out that warning labels alone wouldn’t make social media safer, but would help better inform parents, schools, doctors and others. “There is no seatbelt for parents to click, no helmet to snap in place, no assurance that trusted experts have investigated and ensured that these platforms are safe for our kids,” he wrote. “There are just parents and their children, trying to figure it out on their own, pitted against some of the best product engineers and most well-resourced companies in the world.”

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