Surgeon General wants warning labels on social media

Warning labels on social media may help teens and their parents understand that these platforms can have serious effects on physical and mental health.

Study after study shows that social media can be detrimental to children’s development. Now the surgeon general wants to put warning labels on social media platforms to help children and their parents understand the risks.

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy called for warning labels on social media platforms in an op-ed published in The New York Times on Monday. Muti said the warning labels could be similar to those on tobacco products and "regularly remind parents and teenagers that social media has not been proven to be safe."

Murthy's advice, however, went no further. Warning labels such as those being called for can only be achieved through "congressional action," and while Murthy did issue a recommendation in 2023 to shed light on youth mental health risks associated with social media use, no recommendations from Congress appear to be on the way at this time. in the direction of creating warning labels.

Social media companies claim they are making their platforms safer, but "we need evidence," Muti said. “Now is the time to require the surgeon general to put warning labels on social media platforms linking them to serious mental health harms in adolescents.”

The 2022 Digital Health Lab's Pulse Survey found that more than 63% of young people surveyed were losing sleep due to time spent on devices. Nearly half (about 46%) believe social media has made them feel worse about their body image, and about 41% believe their use of screen media has caused physical problems such as headaches, back and neck pain or fatigue.

However, Murthy noted that "to be clear, warning labels alone do not guarantee that social media is safe for young people." Instead, Murthy said, Congress, companies and society should all play a role in ensuring that social media is safe for young people. play a role in child safety. Some of the recommendations include independent safety audits, phone-free experiences at school and home, and shared rules to help parents feel connected and supported.

“The moral test of any society is how well it protects its children,” Murthy wrote. “We have the expertise, resources and tools to keep our children safe on social media. Now is the time to show the will to act. The well-being of our children is at stake."