Surgeon General Calls for Social Media Warning Labels to Protect Teens

Cigarettes and alcohol have cautionary notes, he says, while citing research showing high risk for anxiety and depression among heavy users of online networks.
Surgeon General Calls for Social Media Warning Labels to Protect Teens
Surgeon General Vivek Murthy speaks during the United States Conference of Mayors' 91st Winter Meeting in Washington on Jan. 18, 2023. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Savannah Hulsey Pointer

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy wants social media sites to inform users that there is evidence linking these sites to risks to adolescents’ mental health.

Dr. Murthy made the case for the change in an opinion piece published by The New York Times on June 17.

“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.”

The health official proposed that labels similar to those on tobacco products and alcoholic beverages could increase awareness among social media users and their guardians.

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

Dr. Murthy’s appeal cited alarming statistics: Adolescents who spend more than three hours a day on social media face double the risk of experiencing anxiety and depression.

The average daily use among this age group was 4.8 hours as of the summer of 2023. Nearly half of adolescents report that social media negatively affects their body image.

The article also cited a recent survey finding that 76 percent of Latino parents would limit or monitor their children’s social media use if warned to do so by the surgeon general.

Dr. Murthy emphasizes that a warning label alone is insufficient. In his previous advisory on social media and young people’s mental health, he outlined specific recommendations for policymakers, platforms, and the public to enhance safety for kids online.

He also calls for legislative action to prevent platforms from collecting sensitive data from children and to restrict features such as push notifications, autoplay, and infinite scroll, which contribute to excessive use.

He insists that companies share all their health effects data with independent scientists and the public and allow independent safety audits.

Near the end of his comments, Dr. Murthy drew parallels to safety measures for cars, planes, and food, asking why the country hasn’t treated social media with the same care and concern.

According to the doctor, the current mental health crisis among young people isn’t due to a lack of willpower or a parenting issue, but the result of a vulnerable population being exposed to powerful technology without safety measures or accountability.

The Epoch Times reached out to major social media platforms for comment but received no response by press time.

Dr. Murthy’s analysis was released the same day that the results of a poll were published by the Tech Oversight Project, showing that the majority of voters, on a bipartisan basis, support approving a children’s online safety rule.

According to the polling data, more than 80 percent of voters from both parties say they believe the government should put responsible safeguards in place for minors online.

Additionally, the poll found that 78 percent of Americans support the passage of the Kids Online Safety Act, specifically, while just 13 percent oppose the legislation. Meanwhile, 56 percent of those polled would be more likely to vote for their congressional representative if they supported the measure.

Tech Oversight Project Executive Director Sacha Haworth said, “We need to end the era of social media where our children are collateral damage, and undermining their health and well-being is part of the cost of doing business.”