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Tech & The Web

U.S. Surgeon General Wants Warning Label for Social Media

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Does social media actually need a warning label? America’s surgeon general says it’s contributing to an ’emergency’ mental health crisis.

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy says it’s time for a warning label for social media. In an opinion essay that appeared in The New York Times, Murthy called for a tobacco-style warning label on the various social media services.

He called the mental health crisis among young people “an emergency” and said social media “has emerged as an important contributor.”

Adolescents who spend more than three hours a day on social media face double the risk of anxiety and depression symptoms, and the average daily use in this age group, as of the summer of 2023, was 4.8 hours. Additionally, nearly half of adolescents say social media makes them feel worse about their bodies.

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy, New York Times editorial

His op-ed included an interesting statistic based on a survey of Latino parents. He said when asked if a warning from the surgeon general would prompt them to limit or monitor their children’s social media use, 76% said yes.

But would a warning label really change anything?

How long have we been talking about the potential detrimental effects of social media, particularly on children? Some platforms like Instagram began offering options to hide the number of likes for individual posts.

The website Simpl!learn suggests one advantage of hiding likes is that it allows for more authenticity. People can post what they want to post rather than what might get a lot of reaction. It may also discourage “grandstanding” by limiting the temptation to cut down other people’s beliefs or post a lot of big opinions to get the support of the masses.

The platform X just said it was hiding likes to protect its users’ privacy. Users can see their own likes, but others can’t.

Unlike Instagram, X’s change appears to be automatic.

But safeguards like hiding likes have to be mandatory to work. As long as people leave their like counts visible, there’s too much temptation to use social media as a popularity contest, which is what too many young people seem to do.

A warning label pointing out that social media is dangerous shouldn’t be necessary. Most people with good sense know that. If you’re addicted to it, you’ll ignore the danger.

If a parent — at this point — needs a warning label to take action to protect their own children, there’s something seriously wrong with them.

I support any measure designed to protect people’s mental health. I know parents who won’t let their kids have a smartphone until they’re well into their teens. Some parents lock their teens’ smartphones down so nothing can be downloaded without their approval.

That’s how it should be.

Call me skeptical, but I have a hard time believing that a warning label is suddenly going to make other parents do what they should have always been doing.

the authorPatrick
Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.

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