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Surgeon general wants tobacco-style warning labels on social media

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The U.S. Surgeon General called on Congress to require tobacco-style warnings on social media platforms. In an op-ed released Monday, June 17, in The New York Times, Dr. Vivek Murthy reiterated his stance that the mental health crisis among young people is an “emergency.” Murthy reiterated that social media is one of the biggest reasons why.

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Murthy said he wants to require warnings that include language alerting users to the potential mental health impacts of social media websites and apps.

Last year, the Surgeon General’s Office issued an advisory about social media use and its potential mental health effect on teens. The office also called on social media companies to ensure platforms enforce minimum age requirements. Now, he wants to take that further by adding these labels, which require congressional approval.

“Legislation from Congress should shield young people from online harassment, abuse and exploitation and from exposure to extreme violence and sexual content that too often appears in algorithm-driven feeds,” Murthy wrote. “The measures should prevent platforms from collecting sensitive data from children and should restrict the use of features like push notifications, autoplay and infinite scroll, which prey on developing brains and contribute to excessive use.”

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Murthy said the proposed labels would “regularly remind parents and adolescents that social media has not been proved safe.”

“To be clear, a warning label would not, on its own, make social media safe for young people,” Murthy added.

On Monday, June 17, Murthy noted the success of adding similar labels to tobacco products while appearing on NBC’s “Today.”

“Now, a warning label would help parents to understand these risks,” Murthy said. “Many parents don’t know that these risks exist. And we have data from tobacco warning labels that, in fact, that they can be helpful in changing awareness and changing behavior. Keep in mind, when Congress authorized these labels for tobacco more than half a century ago, or nearly half a century ago, the smoking rate in America was above 40% today it’s under 12%.”

Murthy also said social media companies should have to share all their data on health effects with independent scientists and the public and allow independent safety audits.

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[LAUREN TAYLOR]

THE U.S. SURGEON GENERAL IS CALLING ON CONGRESS TO REQUIRE TOBACCO-STYLE WARNINGS ON SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS. IN AN OP-ED RELEASED MONDAY, JUNE 17, IN THE NEW YORK TIMES, DR. VIVEK MURTHY REITERATED HIS STANCE THAT THE MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS AMONG YOUNG PEOPLE IS AN “EMERGENCY” AND SAID SOCIAL MEDIA IS ONE OF THE BIGGEST REASONS WHY.

MURTHY SAID HE WANTS THE WARNINGS TO INCLUDE LANGUAGE ALERTING USERS TO THE POTENTIAL MENTAL HEALTH IMPACTS OF THE SOCIAL MEDIA WEBSITES AND APPS.

LAST YEAR, THE SURGEON GENERAL’S OFFICE ISSUED AN ADVISORY ABOUT SOCIAL MEDIA USE AND ITS POTENTIAL MENTAL HEALTH EFFECT ON TEENS AND CALLED ON SOCIAL MEDIA COMPANIES TO ENSURE MINIMUM AGE REQUIREMENTS ARE ENFORCED. NOW, HE WANTS TO TAKE THAT FURTHER BY ADDING THESE LABELS, WHICH REQUIRE CONGRESSIONAL APPROVAL. 

“LEGISLATION FROM CONGRESS SHOULD SHIELD YOUNG PEOPLE FROM ONLINE HARASSMENT, ABUSE AND EXPLOITATION AND FROM EXPOSURE TO EXTREME VIOLENCE AND SEXUAL CONTENT THAT TOO OFTEN APPEARS IN ALGORITHM-DRIVEN FEEDS. THE MEASURES SHOULD PREVENT PLATFORMS FROM COLLECTING SENSITIVE DATA FROM CHILDREN AND SHOULD RESTRICT THE USE OF FEATURES LIKE PUSH NOTIFICATIONS, AUTOPLAY AND INFINITE SCROLL, WHICH PREY ON DEVELOPING BRAINS AND CONTRIBUTE TO EXCESSIVE USE.”

MURTHY SAID THE PROPOSED LABELS WOULD “REGULARLY REMIND PARENTS AND ADOLESCENTS THAT SOCIAL MEDIA HAS NOT BEEN PROVED SAFE.” BUT HE ALSO ADDED, “TO BE CLEAR, A WARNING LABEL WOULD NOT, ON ITS OWN, MAKE SOCIAL MEDIA SAFE FOR YOUNG PEOPLE.”

IN AN INTERVIEW ON NBC’S “THE TODAY SHOW” MONDAY MORNING, DR. MURTHY NOTED THE SUCCESS OF ADDING SIMILAR LABELS TO TOBACCO PRODUCTS. 

[VIVEK MURTHY]

“NOW, A WARNING LABEL WOULD HELP PARENTS TO UNDERSTAND THESE RISKS. MANY PARENTS DON’T KNOW THAT THESE RISKS EXIST. AND WE HAVE DATA FROM TOBACCO WARNING LABELS THAT, IN FACT, THAT THEY CAN BE HELPFUL IN CHANGING AWARENESS AND CHANGING BEHAVIOR. KEEP IN MIND, WHEN CONGRESS AUTHORIZED THESE LABELS FOR TOBACCO MORE THAN HALF A CENTURY AGO, OR NEARLY HALF A CENTURY AGO, THE SMOKING RATE IN AMERICA WAS ABOVE 40% TODAY IT’S UNDER 12%.” 

[LAUREN TAYLOR]

DR. MURTHY ALSO SAID SOCIAL MEDIA COMPANIES SHOULD BE REQUIRED TO SHARE ALL THEIR DATA ON HEALTH EFFECTS WITH INDEPENDENT SCIENTISTS AND THE PUBLIC AND ALLOW INDEPENDENT SAFETY AUDITS.