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Opinion | Surgeon General: Why I’m Calling for a Warning Label on Social Media Platforms

🌈 Abstract

The article discusses the Surgeon General's call for a warning label on social media platforms due to the significant mental health harms they pose for adolescents. It outlines the evidence of the negative impacts, the proposed policy measures, and the broader societal responsibility to address this issue.

🙋 Q&A

[01] Surgeon General's Call for a Warning Label

1. What is the rationale behind the Surgeon General's call for a warning label on social media platforms?

  • The Surgeon General cites evidence that adolescents who spend more than 3 hours a day on social media face double the risk of anxiety and depression symptoms, and the average daily use in this age group is 4.8 hours.
  • Nearly half of adolescents say social media makes them feel worse about their bodies.
  • The Surgeon General believes the mental health crisis among young people is an emergency, and social media has emerged as an important contributor.
  • A warning label from the Surgeon General, which requires congressional action, would regularly remind parents and adolescents that social media has not been proven safe.
  • Evidence from tobacco studies shows that warning labels can increase awareness and change behavior.

2. What specific policy measures does the Surgeon General recommend beyond the warning label?

  • Legislation from Congress should:
    • Shield young people from online harassment, abuse, exploitation, and exposure to extreme violence and sexual content
    • Prevent platforms from collecting sensitive data from children
    • Restrict the use of features like push notifications, autoplay, and infinite scroll
  • Companies must be required to:
    • Share all data on health effects with independent scientists and the public
    • Allow independent safety audits

3. What role does the Surgeon General call for from other stakeholders beyond policymakers?

  • Schools should ensure classroom learning and social time are phone-free experiences.
  • Parents should create phone-free zones around bedtime, meals, and social gatherings to safeguard their kids' sleep and real-life connections.
  • Parents should wait until after middle school to allow their kids access to social media, and work together with other families to establish shared rules.
  • Young people can build on efforts like the Log Off movement and Wired Human to support one another in reforming their relationship with social media.
  • Public health leaders, doctors, nurses, and the federal Kids Online Health & Safety Task Force should all play a role in making social media safer for children.

[02] Personal Perspective and Urgency of the Issue

1. What personal experiences and perspectives does the Surgeon General share on this issue?

  • As a father of young children, the Surgeon General worries about when to allow them to have social media accounts and how to monitor their activity and exposure to harmful content.
  • The Surgeon General reflects on conversations with students who expressed feeling addicted to social media, having their self-esteem shredded by endless comparisons, and feeling powerless to change their relationship with it.
  • The Surgeon General empathizes with parents who feel helpless and alone in the face of the toxic content and hidden harms on social media platforms.

2. How does the Surgeon General convey the urgency of addressing the harms of social media?

  • The Surgeon General compares the mental health crisis among young people to an emergency, stating "you don't have the luxury to wait for perfect information" and that "now is the time to summon the will to act."
  • The Surgeon General argues that the harms of social media are "no less urgent or widespread than those posed by unsafe cars, planes or food," and that the failure to respond is a "moral test of any society."
  • The Surgeon General emphasizes that "our children's well-being is at stake" and that parents and young people should not be told that change takes time or that the status quo is too hard to alter.
Shared by Daniel Chen ·
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