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Surgeon General’s Warning for Social Media

It’s time for Congress to take action, says America’s Top Doc.

Is social media adding to mental health issues among the young? Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy seems to think so. In fact, he feels so strongly, he’s asking for Congress to put a warning label on platforms.

Social Media and the Mental Health Crisis

Murthy wrote an op-ed for The New York Times, saying, “The mental health crisis among young people is an emergency – and social media has emerged as an important contributor.” According to America’s top doc, adolescents who spend more than three hours per day on the platforms “face double the risk of anxiety and depression symptoms.” As of summer 2023, the average daily use among the young was 4.8 hours.

Part of the problem is that kids go onto social media sites to share information and chat with their friends, but they also find a lot of negativity there. Murthy said nearly half of adolescents “say social media makes them feel worse about their bodies.” The Suicide Prevention Resource Center conducted research with data from more than 150,000 youth across 30 countries over 21 years and found that those under 25 years old who were victims of cyberbullying “were more than twice as likely to engage in self-harm and suicidal behaviors than their non-victim peers.”

This has been a concern for some time. The surgeon general spoke about his worries last year, and as Liberty Nation News reported, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida signed HB 3 on March 25, 2024, which prohibits children 13 and younger from accessing social media platforms that have “addictive” qualities.

But will it do any good to have a surgeon general’s warning on websites and platforms? Murthy pointed to tobacco studies that showed these types of labels can increase awareness and change behavior. He referenced a Brookings study from February regarding Latino children’s usage of social media. It asked parents that if there was a warning from the surgeon general on social media sites, would this encourage them to limit their children’s use of the platforms and 76% said yes.

Would it really? Movies have warning labels regarding content and language, but still many parents allow and even take their kids to R-rated movies. Murthy did allow that the warning was not nearly enough to protect kids from some of the dangers of social media. It’s too easy for them to be exploited by online harassment, violence, and sexual content “that too often appears in algorithm-driven feeds,” he wrote. Congress, he urged, should come up with legislation that would prevent the platforms from collecting sensitive data from kids as well as restrict addictive features such as autoplay, push notifications, and infinite scroll, which “prey on developing brains and contribute to excessive use.”

It’s not all up to Congress, though. According to the surgeon general, companies need to take responsibility and so should the rest of society. Schools, for instance, should insist that classrooms are free from phones.

Parents, too, could play a larger role in monitoring their children’s presence on social media. They could create phone-free zones around bedtime and meals, the doctor explained, and “social gatherings to safeguard their kids’ sleep and real-life connections – both of which have direct effects on mental health.” Also, he added, parents should wait until after their children have finished middle school to give them access to social media. However, it is a difficult task to protect children from these platforms, he wrote:

“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. 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.”

Furthermore, Murthy said:

“Why is it that we have failed to respond to the harms of social media when they are no less urgent or widespread than those posed by unsafe cars, planes or food? These harms are not a failure of willpower and parenting; they are the consequence of unleashing powerful technology without adequate safety measures, transparency or accountability.

“The moral test of any society is how well it protects its children.”

Does social media need more regulations? Probably. Will the surgeon general’s warning label do anything to prevent children from being on the platforms too long? Probably not. However, a combined effort of schools, lawmakers, and definitely more parental supervision would likely go a long way toward making it safer for kids.

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