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Surgeon general calls for social media warning labels

Brian Niemietz, New York Daily News on

Published in News & Features

The U.S. surgeon general is demanding warning labels for social media platforms similar to those on cigarette packaging meant to discourage young people from smoking.

“In May 2023, I outlined recommendations to make social media safer for kids,” Surgeon General Vivek Murthy posted on social media Monday. “Yet parents and children are still waiting for change.”

In an opinion piece published by The New York Times, Murthy renewed his call for lawmakers to urgently address the “youth mental health crisis” that he believes platforms like X and TikTok are contributing to.

“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.”

The nation’s top doctor argued that young people who spend at least three hours daily on social media are twice as likely to experience anxiety and depression. The average adolescent reportedly averaged 4.8 hours of daily social media use in 2023. Roughly half of social media users in that demographic said what they saw online contributed to negative feelings about their bodies.

Murthy said the success of similar labels first recommended for tobacco products in 1964 demonstrates public awareness campaigns can be effective in curbing toxic consumption. He cited a recent Brookings Institution study that found more than 75% of Latino parents surveyed would limit their children’s time on social media if federal regulators issued such an advisory.


The National Institutes of Health published research a decade ago suggesting online social networking was responsible for “profound changes in the way people communicate and interact,” though researchers were unclear on whether it causes “psychiatric disorders” or affects kids in particular.

Murthy wants the labels he called for Monday to clarify that “social media is associated with significant mental health harms for adolescents.”

The surgeon general further wants to see federal legislation aimed at protecting young people from online harassment, extreme violence and sexual content manipulated by algorithms.

Despite voluntary safety efforts made by some social media platforms, Murthy wants a mandate forcing such businesses to publicly share data and facilitate independent audits.

“Americans need more than words,” Murthy wrote. “We need proof.”

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