Social media warning labels aimed at teens urged by US Surgeon General

The US Surgeon General on Monday called for a warning label to be added to social media apps, like TikTok, as a reminder the platforms can cause harm to young people, especially adolescents.

US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy wrote in the New York Times on Monday that a warning label alone will not make social media safe for young people but that it can increase awareness and change behavior as shown in evidence from tobacco studies.

First proposing the warning labels last May, America’s top doctor said the labels would regularly remind parents and adolescents that social media has not been proved safe.

“Parents and children are still waiting for change,” Murthy posted in a renewed plea for the cautionary stamp on the social media platform X.

“We are in the middle of an emergency, and it’s essential that Congress act with speed and urgency. The health and well-being of our kids is at stake,” Murthy said.

For a long time, Murthy has been warning that social media can profoundly harm the mental health of youth, particularly adolescent girls. In an advisory last year, he called for safeguards from tech companies for children who are at critical stages of brain development.

A 2019 American Medical Association study showed that the risk of depression doubled for teenagers who were spending three hours a day on social media.

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US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy speaks during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, US, June 8, 2023. Image by Amanda Andrade-Rhoades | Reuters.

US lawmakers advocate to protect kids

The fight to protect children against the negative effects of social media is one of the secondary reasons (besides national security) that US lawmakers have pushed to ban TikTok in the US.

Some US states have also been working to pass legislation to safeguard kids from mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression.

New York state lawmakers this month passed legislation to bar social media platforms from exposing "addictive" algorithmic content to users under age 18 without parental consent.

In March, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill that bans children under 14 from social media platforms and requires 14- and 15-year-olds to get parental consent.

The US House and Senate would still need to pass legislation requiring such a warning label.