Home US Surgeon General makes case for health warnings on social media apps

US Surgeon General makes case for health warnings on social media apps

A senior US health official has made the case for cigarette-style health warning labels to be applied to social media apps.

In an op-ed piece for the New York Times, Dr. Vivek Murthy appealed for the step to be taken for users to be reminded that online platforms are “associated with significant mental health harms for adolescents.”

The US Surgeon General believes social media is a key driver toward “the mental health crisis among people” and feels the introduction of labels would regularly remind young people and parents that “social media has not been proved safe”.

Dr. Murthy’s motivation for the warnings to be applied to social media comes from the precedent of cigarette packets which have carried blunt messages for decades. ‘Smoking causes blindness’ and ‘Cigarettes cause cancer’ are two examples of concise, yet stern warnings that are familiar to smokers on both sides of the Atlantic.

The labels were first applied in the US in 1966, after then-Surgeon General Lether L Terry linked tobacco to lung cancer in a published report, and the UK adopted the same approach in 1971.


Social media “not inherently harmful”: report

Murthy has linked the warnings on cigarettes to awareness of the damage caused and wants people to think of social media with cognizance of its harms. He believes it would also encourage parents to pay closer attention to their children’s online activity and their well-being.

“Adolescents who spend more than three hours a day on social media face double the risk of anxiety and depression symptoms,” stated Dr Murthy.

“The average daily use in this age group, as of the summer of 2023, was 4.8 hours. Additionally, nearly half of adolescents say social media makes them feel worse about their bodies,” he added. 

Even if the Surgeon General gains support for this initiative, it will meet significant resistance along the way.

Any proposed legislation would need to be passed by Congress with a fraught political battle likely to be played out, in addition to fierce resistance from social media giants such as Meta, TikTok, and X.

Those powerful companies would possibly look toward a study last year which found no evidence linking the global proliferation of Facebook and significant psychological harm, while the American Psychological Association stated social media “is not inherently beneficial or harmful”, though it did advise against harmful use and supports the removal of any content which encourages harm.


Image credit: Ideogram

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Graeme Hanna
Tech Journalist

Graeme Hanna is a full-time, freelance writer with significant experience in online news as well as content writing. Since January 2021, he has contributed as a football and news writer for several mainstream UK titles including The Glasgow Times, Rangers Review, Manchester Evening News, MyLondon, Give Me Sport, and the Belfast News Letter. Graeme has worked across several briefs including news and feature writing in addition to other significant work experience in professional services. Now a contributing news writer at ReadWrite.com, he is involved with pitching relevant content for publication as well as writing engaging tech news stories.

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