US Surgeon General Dr Murthy seeks warning labels on social media apps

Dr Vivek Murthy
Dr Vivek Murthy

Washington | US Surgeon General Dr Vivek Murthy on Monday urged Congress to impose smoking-style warning labels on social media platforms, citing the threat they pose to children's mental health.

In an op-ed published in The New York Times, the top Indian-American physician said the mental health crisis among young people is an urgent problem, with social media “an important contributor.”

Murthy said his vision of the warning label includes language that would alert users to the potential mental health harms of the websites and apps.

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

“The mental health crisis among young people is an emergency — and social media has emerged as an important contributor,” Murthy, 46, said in his op-ed.

He cited several studies, including a 2019 American Medical Association study published in JAMA that showed teens who spend three hours a day on social media double their risk of depression.

Teens spend nearly five hours a day on social media apps, according to a Gallup poll.

“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 said.

Similar labels on tobacco, first instituted in the 1970s, led to a steady decline in cigarette smoking in America over the past several decades, CNN reported.

Murthy said in the op-ed, “Evidence from tobacco labels shows that surgeon general’s warnings can increase awareness and change behaviour.”

But he acknowledged the limitations and said a label alone wouldn't make social media safe.

Steps can be taken by Congress, social media companies, parents and others to mitigate the risks, ensure a safer experience online and protect children from possible harm, he wrote.

CEOs of tech companies have been grilled routinely on Capitol Hill, most notably Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg — who publicly apologised to families whose children killed themselves because of online bullying and harassment. But Congress has taken little action to curb children’s social media usage, CNN reported.

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