US surgeon general calls for social media warning labels, echoing conservative book concerns

Health warnings for kids should be affixed to social media platforms, just as was done with tobacco products, says the U.S. Surgeon General.

In a new essay published by The New York Times, U.S….

Health warnings for kids should be affixed to social media platforms, just as was done with tobacco products, says the U.S. Surgeon General.

In a new essay published by The New York Times, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy writes that warnings on tobacco products about harmful health consequences have changed the behavior of people who buy cigarettes.

“Evidence from tobacco studies show that warning labels can increase awareness and change behavior,” Murthy explained. “When asked if a warning from the surgeon general would prompt them to limit or monitor their children’s social media use, 76 percent of people in one recent survey of Latino parents said yes.”

In May of last year, Murthy issued an advisory regarding social media that noted “extreme, inappropriate, and harmful content continues to be easily and widely accessible by children and adolescents.”  

“The moral test of any society is how well it protects its children,” said Murthy, echoing conservative rationale for removing inappropriate books from schools. 

The advisory also warned that children who use social media for more than three hours per day face “double the risk of experiencing poor mental health outcomes, including symptoms of depression and anxiety.”  

In his Times essay, Murthy claims an increased risk for suicide and self-harm from social media for children and adolescents. The 2023 advisory noted that “adolescent girls and those already experiencing poor mental health” have a higher relative risk with social media use than other groups. 

The surgeon general has called for legislation to require social media companies to share all their data about the health effects of their products with the government and allow independent “safety audits” of their platforms.  

Murthy claimed that legislation requiring seat belts, airbags “and a host of other measures … ultimately made cars safer.” He said the government routinely takes action when the lives of the public are in danger because of hazardous products.  

“Why is it that we have failed to respond to the harms of social media when they are no less urgent or widespread than those posed by unsafe cars, planes or food?” Murthy asked in his essay.    

He also called on schools to ensure classrooms remain “phone-free” areas.  

However, others have said bad parenting, not social media, is the underlying issue to blame for any ongoing mental health crisis in kids.

“Be a parent and take it [smartphone] away, delete the app, moderate your child,” Gary Vaynerchuk, who made early investments in Meta and X (formerly Twitter), told The National

“I think we have a parenting pandemic,” he said. “What I’m fascinated by is that we are in a generation of parenting that is not willing to have children face consequences and ramifications for their actions. I think that’s our issue.” 

He rejected government regulation as a mechanism for solving problems presented by child social media usage.  

Vaynerchuck explained that while big tech companies have some complicity in the problem, society should talk more about better parenting as a solution to the child mental health crisis.  

Murthy disagrees. 

“These harms are not a failure of willpower and parenting; they are the consequence of unleashing powerful technology without adequate safety measures, transparency or accountability,” he writes.