Surgeon general urges youth safety labels on social media

June 17, 2024

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy is pushing to require a warning label on social media platforms to advise users that social media has been connected to mental health risks for adolescents.

Murthy in an opinion piece for The New York Times called for a surgeon general’s warning label to be placed on social media platforms, similar to those warning labels that appear on tobacco and alcohol products. He noted that studies have shown that warning labels on tobacco products can increase awareness and change a user’s behavior.

“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,” he wrote.

“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.

He also wrote that a warning label alone would not make social media platforms safer for young people. He referenced an advisory he put out last year that warned that social media is contributing to the youth mental crisis and advised policymakers, platforms and members of the public to heed his recommendations to make social media safer for adolescents.  

Murthy called for legislation from Congress that would “shield young people from online harassment, abuse and exploitation and from exposure to extreme violence and sexual content.” He also said social media companies should share their data with the public and allow independent safety audits.

He also advised schools and parents to create phone-free environments, especially around meals, right before bed and at social events. He wrote that parents should wait until their children are done with middle school before allowing them to have social media and suggested they work with other families to create shared rules.

“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 wrote.