Saying Facebook, Instagram, and Tiktok are causing “significant mental health harms for adolescents,” US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy is calling for public health warning labels on social media sites and apps, not unlike the warnings placed on packs of cigarettes.

Anger at social media companies seemed to be a unifying, bipartisan feeling when members of Congress grilled social media CEOs at hearings earlier this year. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg that “you have blood on your hands. You have a product that's killing people," while Democratic senators excoriated Zuckerberg for minimizing safeguards for children and teens on his Facebook and Instagram platforms. Today we have another high-ranking federal official calling for action on social media’s effect on teens and kids, as the US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy declared Monday that social media sites should have public health warnings, just like packs of cigarettes have.  

“It is time to require a surgeon general’s warning label on social media platforms, stating that social media is associated with significant mental health harms for adolescents,” Murthy said in a New York Times op-ed today. “Evidence from tobacco studies show that warning labels can increase awareness and change behavior. When asked if a warning from the surgeon general would prompt them to limit or monitor their children’s social media use, 76 percent of people in one recent survey of Latino parents said yes.”

The warning labels are only one of Murthy’s proposals for making social media safer for kids. He’s also calling for independent safety audits that are made public, and congressional legislation to prevent harassment and exploitation on the platforms. “The measures should prevent platforms from collecting sensitive data from children and should restrict the use of features like push notifications, autoplay and infinite scroll, which prey on developing brains and contribute to excessive use,” he wrote.

“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 our kids,” Murthy added. “There are just parents and their children, trying to figure it out on their own, pitted against some of the best product engineers and most well-resourced companies in the world."

It’s pretty obvious how to put labels on something physical like a pack of cigarettes; it is less obvious how such labeling would work on social media. Moreover, Murthy’s warning labels would require congressional approval, and he cannot simply order this labeling himself.

Related: Lindsey Graham Tells Social Media Companies 'You Have Blood on Your Hands' and More Drama From Today's Senate Hearing [SFist]

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