Why the Surgeon General Is Pushing for Warning Labels on Social Media Platforms

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Social media addiction lawsuits

On Monday, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy announced his intention to push for warning labels on social media platforms, cautioning that their use may harm adolescents’ mental health. Drawing parallels to warning labels on tobacco and alcohol, Dr. Murthy emphasized the need for a legislative mandate from Congress to implement such labels, as he lacks unilateral authority. No current legislation addresses this issue.

Tech Companies Are Failing Us

In an essay published in The New York Times, Dr. Murthy likened the public health risk posed by social media to that of road fatalities and contaminated food, emphasizing the urgency of the matter. He argued that the harms associated with social media are a consequence of powerful technology lacking adequate safety measures, transparency, or accountability, rather than failures in willpower or parenting.

Social Media Is Harmful & Addictive

Dr. Murthy cited research indicating that teens who spend over three hours daily on social media are at a significantly higher risk of mental health problems, with 46 percent of adolescents reporting that social media negatively impacts their body image. A Gallup survey from last fall revealed that U.S. teens spend an average of 4.8 hours daily on platforms such as YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram. Dr. Murthy noted that many young people struggle to disengage from these platforms, which are designed to maximize user time, exacerbating issues related to impulse control and brain development.

Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, in his book “The Anxious Generation,” attributes a spike in suicidal behavior and despair to the 2007 release of the Apple iPhone.

Warning Labels Can Change Behavior

Historically, warning labels have proven effective in altering behavior. Following a 1965 Surgeon General report, Congress mandated health warnings on cigarette packages, contributing to a significant decline in smoking rates from 42 percent of U.S. adults in 1965 to 11.5 percent in 2021.

Dr. Murthy’s longstanding view is that social media poses a health risk. In May 2023, he issued an advisory highlighting the profound risks and potential benefits of social media for adolescents. While acknowledging the complexity of the issue, he urged parents to set limits on their children’s social media use and to keep mealtimes device-free.

It’s No Different Than Seatbelts

By advocating for warning labels, Dr. Murthy aims to increase the urgency of addressing this public health concern. He underscored the need for swift action in emergencies, recalling a poignant encounter with a mother whose child had died by suicide after online bullying. Dr. Murthy compared the current lack of protective measures for social media use to past public health campaigns that introduced seatbelts and helmets.

“There is no seatbelt for parents to click, no helmet to snap in place, no assurance that trusted experts have investigated and ensured that these platforms are safe for kids,” Dr. Murthy wrote.

Social Media Addiction Lawsuits Are on the Rise

Dr. Murthy’s call to action reflects a growing recognition of the significant impact of social media on young people’s mental health and the need for concerted efforts to mitigate these risks.

In response to increasing concerns about the effects of social media on adolescents, a wave of social media addiction lawsuits has been launched against major social media companies. This Multidistrict Litigation (MDL), titled *In re: Social Media Adolescent Addiction/Personal Injury Products Liability Litigation* (MDL No. 3047), targets several prominent defendants, including Meta Platforms, Inc., Instagram LLC, Snap, Inc., TikTok, Inc., ByteDance, Inc., YouTube LLC, Google LLC, and Alphabet Inc.