US Surgeon General Wants Social Media Platforms to Have Their Own Warning Labels

US Surgeon General Wants Social Media Platforms to Have Their Own Warning Labels

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United States Surgeon General Vivek Murthy called Monday for social media apps to feature warning labels not unlike those found on tobacco products. Amid widespread and often detrimental social media use among teens, the labels would aim to increase awareness of the psychological harms known to arise from Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, X (formerly Twitter), and other popular apps. 

In a New York Times guest essay, Murthy called out that both parents and teens are looking for ways to limit social media’s effect on the youth mental health crisis. It’s no secret that many parents are concerned about social media’s impact on their children’s psyches, whether they monitor their kids’ internet usage and enforce no-phones-at-the-dinner-table rules or not. But based on Murthy’s own conversations with high school students, teenagers themselves are worried about the ways in which social media changes their moods, attention spans, and self-esteem. They just feel powerless to change the status quo, and social media’s myriad uses—like creative expression and staying in touch with long-distance friends—keep them coming back.

“Adolescents who spend more than three hours a day on social media face double the risk of anxiety and depression symptoms, and the average daily use in this age group, as of the summer of 2023, was 4.8 hours,” Murthy wrote. “Additionally, nearly half of adolescents say social media makes them feel worse about their bodies.” 

Though they wouldn’t fix the problem on their own, warning labels, the surgeon general argued, could help teens and their guardians remember that social media should be used sparingly. Murthy pointed to a survey that indicated three in four Latino parents would start limiting or monitoring their kids’ social media use if they saw a surgeon general’s warning on relevant apps. (Latino Americans reportedly use social media at higher rates than non-Latino Americans, hence the survey’s demographic focus.) Labels might also help teens who feel stuck in the social media whirlwind feel validated in their choice to curb their own use.

A young person browsing social media apps on their phone.


Credit: Árpád Czapp/Unsplash

Congress would need to provide its approval for an official surgeon general’s warning to be placed on social media. Luckily for Murthy, the iron might be hot enough to strike. Meta admitted a few years back that Instagram had a unique power to harm teenage girls’ body images, but it didn’t do anything to change that—instead, it shuttered the team responsible for researching social media addiction just two months later. Research the following year showed that social media not only caused users of all ages to worry about their appearances, achievements, or residential status, but also resulted in increased online spending triggered by ads and self-comparison. 

Internet users are increasingly recognizing the dangers of addictive design, too. “Dark patterns,” or design that intentionally keeps users engaged with a website, app, or game, are prevalent throughout popular platforms like Amazon, Google, and Epic Games’ Fortnite. Some particularly bold parents have even opted to sue gaming giants for the proliferation of dark patterns across platforms favored by teens. This, combined with the momentum behind the controversial Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA), might indicate increased public and political interest in introducing wellbeing-focused web safeguards for young social media users. 

“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,” Murthy 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.”

View original source here.

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