The U.S. Surgeon General Wants To Put Warning Labels on Social Media

Vivek Murthy with phones in the background with warning symbols
Social Media Health Warnings Dr. Vivek H. Murthy lev radin/Shutterstock Roman Samborskyi/Shutterstock Blan-k/Shutterstock

Another day, another fear-mongering article about big bad Social Media™ ruining our youth. This time, the U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, takes the stand.

In an essay published by the New York Times, the public official, who is appointed by the President to advise Americans on public health issues, said he wants to assign warning labels to social media. You know, like the ones they have about cigarettes.

Specifically, this warning label would “regularly remind” adolescents and their parents that social media “has not been proved safe.”

“One of the most important lessons I learned in medical school was that in an emergency, you don’t have the luxury to wait for perfect information. You assess the available facts, you use your best judgment, and you act quickly,” he wrote. “The mental health crisis among young people is an emergency — and social media has emerged as an important contributor.”

Dr. Murthy then went on to cite numerous studies that appear to show that extensive social media usage has a direct correlation with poor body image, anxiety, and depression among young people.

Is it all bad with social media?

While these studies certainly have a point, what we need to remember is multiple things can be true at once. Sure, social media can harm young people’s psyche. Nobody is denying that. 

But in other ways, it can help them. One study, for instance, found that LGBTQ+ teens in particular experienced mental health benefits as a result of social media. This is because it helped them to cultivate a positive peer group, which made them feel supported and seen. 

Similarly, Pew Research found that teens are more likely to say social media has positively affected them rather than negatively. 

It’s also worth noting that we’re in an especially hostile place politically right now. Politicians have openly said they wish to target social media apps like TikTok to influence young people’s political opinions. We’re facing the rise of the alt-right on X and anti-LGBTQ+ hostility with accounts like Libs Of TikTok. Or, as is the case with the ‘Slap A Teacher’ trend, straight-up hoaxes designed to alienate us from social media.

Dr. Murthy very briefly acknowledges some of the benefits of friendship and connection posed by social media, but doesn’t acknowledge our currently fraught political environment. So, while we see Dr. Murthy’s point, it’s important to approach this discussion with a more nuanced perspective. 

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