Surgeon General demands warning label on social media apps | CNN Business (2024)


Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said the threat social media poses to children requires urgent action, and he demanded Congress to put a label on the apps as it does with cigarettes and alcohol.

“The mental health crisis among young people is an emergency — and social media has emerged as an important contributor,” Murthy said in an op-ed in the New York Times Monday.

Murthy cited several studies, including a 2019 American Medical Association study published in JAMA that showed teens who spend three hours a day on social media double their risk of depression. Teens spend nearly five hours a day on social media apps, according to a Gallup poll.

In an interview with CNN’s Meg Tirrell, Murthy said that the prevalence of social media use among kids is over 95%, “nearly universal.”

But Murthy cannot act unilaterally to put a warning label on apps — that requirement would have to come from Congress, with whom Murthy pleaded to pass a bill.

Surgeon General demands warning label on social media apps | CNN Business (1)

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy.

“I put forward this call for a warning because I think it’s essential that parents know what we now know, which is that there are significant harms associated with social media use,” Murthy told CNN.

Similar labels on tobacco, first instituted in 1965, led to a steady decline in cigarette smoking in America over the past several decades.

Congress has long chastised social media companies, claiming they pose harm to children. CEOs of tech companies have been grilled routinely on Capitol Hill, most notably Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg — who publicly apologized to families whose children killed themselves because of online bullying and harassment. But Congress has taken little action to curb children’s social media usage.

Murthy argued that it’s time for Congress to get serious about curbing children’s use of social media.

“Until that point in time, when we have reliable evidence that tells us social media is safe and changes are being made and will be made in the future… parents deserve to be warned. That’s where the label comes in,” Murthy told CNN, adding that he hopes Congress will introduce legislation to add a surgeon general’s warning label on social media as soon as possible. “I think this is an urgent issue.”

An escalating battle

Murthy has warned about social media’s harm to children’s welfare for years. But Monday’s declaration of an emergency and his appeal to Congress represent his most urgent call to action on the issue so far.

In May 2023, Murthy issued an advisory that said there’s not enough evidence to determine whether social media is safe enough for children and adolescents’ mental health, saying social media use presents “a profound risk of harm” for kids.

He suggested parents restrict their kids’ social media use, saying 13 is too young to join social apps. But such advisories are designed to call attention to urgent public health – they don’t require action.

“We’re in the middle of a youth mental health crisis, and I’m concerned that social media is contributing to the harm that kids are experiencing,” Murthy told CNN in May 2023. “For too long, we have placed the entire burden of managing social media on the shoulders of parents and kids, despite the fact that these platforms are designed by some of the most talented engineers and designers in the world to maximize the amount of time that our kids spend on them.”

On CNN’s “Chasing Life” podcast with Dr. Sanjay Gupta in June 2023, Murthy outlined some steps parents can take to rein in their children’s social media usage, including partnering with other parents to make sure kids lack the “I’m the only one without social media” excuse.

More action needed

A warning label, if Congress passes legislation requiring one, would be insufficient to fix the problem, Murthy acknowledged.

He suggested schools become phone-free environments for children, as should dinner time and other family events. And Murthy urged parents to restrict children’s use of social media until they graduate from middle school.

Several states have worked to pass legislation to increase the age at which children can begin to use social apps or some of their more time-sucking features, such as algorithms that push people to engage with more content within the app. The bills have been largely bipartisan.

Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis in March signed a bill that would prohibit children under 14 from obtaining their own social media accounts, and children under 16 would need parental consent to have accounts. New York Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul said she would sign legislation passed by the state legislature that would ban social media from using algorithms in children’s feeds, and the bill would also prevent tech companies from sharing information of children under 18.

“This is much easier said than done, which is why parents should work together with other families to establish shared rules, so no parents have to struggle alone or feel guilty when their teens say they are the only one who has to endure limits,” Murthy wrote in the New York Times.

On Monday, Murthy confirmed to CNN that alcohol and cigarettes are currently the only two products with surgeon general warning labels but that the overall health risk of social media is “just as profound.”

“We’re talking about the mental health and wellbeing of kids,” he said.

CNN’s Jamie Gumbrecht and Meg Tirrell contributed to this report.

Surgeon General demands warning label on social media apps | CNN Business (2024)


Surgeon General demands warning label on social media apps | CNN Business? ›

In a New York Times opinion piece, Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said there is enough evidence mounting that shows a connection between social media and adolescents' deteriorating mental health that a surgeon general's warning label—similar to what appears on cigarette packages—is warranted.

What did the surgeon general say about social media? ›

Teens and kids who spend more than three hours a day on social media face twice the risk of anxiety or symptoms of depression, Murthy noted in his op-ed for The New York Times, citing a 2019 study by JAMA Psychiatry.

Does social media affect mental health? ›

Mental health impacts

Social media use may increase feelings of anxiety and depression, specifically in teens and young adults. The addictive nature of social media activates the brain's reward center by releasing dopamine. This is a “feel-good chemical” linked to pleasurable activities.

What is the surgeon general's warning? ›

Tobacco-like warning label for social media sought by US surgeon general who asks Congress to act. The U.S. surgeon general has called on Congress to require warning labels on social media platforms and their effects on young people's lives, similar to those now mandatory on cigarette boxes.

Who is the most famous doctor on social media? ›

Table of Contents show
  • Dr. Sandra Lee @drpimplepopper (4.2M)
  • Dr. Mike Varshavski @doctor.mike (4.1M)
  • Dr. Deepak Chopra @deepakchopra (2.4M)
  • Alex George @dralexgeorge (1.9M)
  • Michael Salzhauer @therealdrmiami (1.6M)
  • Dr. Phil McGraw @drphil (1.2M)
  • Dr. Mehmet Oz @dr_oz (1.1M)
  • Dr. Heavenly Kimes @dr_heavenly (1M)

What are 5 negative uses of social media? ›

These negative effects include cyberbullying, the spread of misinformation, addiction, the decline in face-to-face communication, self-esteem issues, social isolation, polarization, and echo chambers, cyber stalking and harassment, a decrease in privacy, and comparison and envy.

How does social media affect the brain? ›

Using it activates the brain's reward center by releasing dopamine, a “feel-good chemical” linked to pleasurable activities such as sex, food, and social interaction. The platforms are designed to be addictive and are associated with anxiety, depression, and even physical ailments.

Is social media positive or negative? ›

Social media can often harm one's mental health. It can cause depression and anxiety and can lower self-esteem. In teens alone, depression rates range from 13-66% with increased social networking usage. With over three billion users, social media is likely to continue to play a huge role in our society.

Who said social media is a drug in the social dilemma? ›

And check this one out — it comes from Anna Lembke of Stanford University's School of Medicine: “Social media is a drug.

Who said social media is doing great harm to society? ›

A former Facebook executive has said social media is doing great harm to society around the world. The executive is a man called Chamath Palihapitiya. He joined Facebook in 2007 and became a vice president.

Which message was reported in a U.S. Surgeon General's report released in 1964? ›

The first report of the Surgeon General's Advisory Committee on Smoking and Health was released in 1964. It was a landmark first step to diminish the impact of tobacco use on the health of the American people.

Why don t doctors use social media? ›

Many physicians feel that they don't have the marketing knowledge necessary to launch an effective and professional online marketing campaign. It doesn't take a lot of specialized knowledge to be effective at social media marketing.

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