US surgeon general wants warning labels on social media platforms

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has called for the imposing of smoking-style warning labels on social media platforms to warn parents and adolescents about the potential mental health harms associated with social media. Murthy, is one of the most senior health officials in the United States. He believes that such labels would encourage parents to monitor their children’s safety online and should be applied to platforms like YouTube, TikTok, X, and Meta, which own Facebook and Instagram. He also called for phone use bans in schools and for parents to stop children from using devices during meals and bedtime.

Murthy published a public health advisory in 2023, which found a link between teenage social media use and poor mental health. However, there is no academic consensus on the impact of these platforms and Murthy accepts that there is no perfect information on the matter. He believes that in an emergency, it is essential to assess available facts and act quickly.

Gin Lalli, a psychotherapist and author of How to Empty Your Stress Bucket, believes that warning labels would be a significant step towards promoting better mental health and wellbeing. She believes that social media may have many benefits but may also have risks such as cyberbullying or exposure to harmful content. A 2023 study found no evidence linking the global spread of Facebook to widespread psychological harm, while some research reported some children benefit from spending time online speaking to friends they already know offline.

The American Psychological Association states that social media is “not inherently beneficial or harmful” but warns of problematic use and wants content removed that encourages harm. In the UK, tech firms will have to take more action to keep children safe on the internet, with the Online Safety Act set to come into force in 2025.