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Surgeon General requires warning labels on social media apps

Surgeon General requires warning labels on social media apps



Surgeon General Dr Vivek Murthy said the threat social media poses to children requires urgent action and called on Parliament to require social media apps to be labelled in the same way as tobacco and alcohol.

The youth mental health crisis is an emergency, and social media has emerged as a key contributing factor, Mursi said in an op-ed in The New York Times on Monday.

Murthy 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 are at double the risk of developing depression. A Gallup poll found that teens spend about five hours a day on social media apps.

In an interview with CNN's Meg Tyrrell, Murthy said social media usage among children is over 95 percent, making it nearly universal.

But Mursi cannot act alone to require warning labels on apps: The mandate must come from Congress, which he is working with to pass the bill.

“I'm issuing this warning because I think it's important that parents know what we now know, which is that social media use can be very harmful,” Mursi told CNN.

Similar labels on cigarettes, first introduced in 1965, have led to a steady decline in smoking in the United States over the past few decades.

Congress has long grilled social media companies for harming children. Tech CEOs have been grilled regularly on Capitol Hill, most notably Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who publicly apologized to a family whose child committed suicide as a result of cyberbullying and harassment. But Congress has done little to curb children's use of social media.

Mursi argued that it was time for Congress to get serious about curbing children's use of social media.

“Until we have credible evidence that social media is safe and changes are happening and will continue to happen, parents deserve to be warned. That's where labels come in,” Murthy told CNN, adding that he hopes Congress will introduce legislation as soon as possible to add Surgeon General's warning labels to social media. “I think this is an urgent issue.”

Murthy has long warned about the harm social media poses to child welfare, but Monday's emergency declaration and call to parliament marks the prime minister's most urgent call for action on the issue to date.

In May 2023, Murthy issued a recommendation saying that social media use poses a risk of serious harm to children and that there is insufficient evidence to determine whether social media is sufficiently safe for the mental health of children and adolescents.

He suggested parents limit their children's social media use, saying 13 is too young to join social apps, but the recommendation is intended as an urgent public health alert, not a requirement for action.

“We are in the midst of a youth mental health crisis and I am concerned that social media is contributing to the harm that kids are experiencing,” Murthy told CNN in May 2023. “For too long, we have placed the burden of social media management entirely on the shoulders of parents and their children, even though these platforms are designed by some of the most talented engineers and designers in the world to maximize the time kids spend on social media.”

During a June 2023 appearance on CNN's “Chasing Life” podcast with Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Murthy outlined several steps parents can take to curb their children's social media use, including collaborating with other parents to stop kids from using the excuse, “I'm the only one who's not on social media.”

Even if Congress passes a bill requiring warning labels, it won't be enough to solve the problem, Murthy acknowledged.

He suggested that schools should be a cell phone-free environment for children, as well as dinners and other family events. Murthy also urged parents to limit social media use until their children graduate from secondary school.

Several states have been working to pass bills that would raise the age at which children can use social apps and some of their time-sucking features, such as algorithms that encourage people to engage with more content within the apps. The bills have passed on a largely bipartisan basis.

Florida's Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, signed a bill in March that bans children under 14 from getting social media accounts and requires parental consent for those under 16 to have accounts. New York's Democratic governor, Kathy Hochle, said she would sign a bill passed by the state legislature that bans social media companies from using algorithms to target feeds at children, and the bill also prohibits tech companies from sharing information about children under 18.

This is easier said than done, which is why parents should work with other family members to establish common rules so they don't have to struggle alone or feel guilty when their teen says they're the only one who has to put up with the restrictions, Murthy wrote in The New York Times.

Murthy told CNN on Monday that while alcohol and tobacco are the only two products currently carrying warning labels from the Surgeon General, the health risks of social media overall are just as serious.

We're talking about the mental health and wellbeing of our children, he said.




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