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Surgeon General Wants Warning Labels on Social Media

Nearly 60 years after cigarettes and other tobacco products were required to feature warnings from the U.S. Surgeon General about nicotine and tobacco’s risks for physical health, social media platforms are facing pressure from the current surgeon general to warn their users of potential risks for mental health.

In an essay published in The New York Times opinion section on Monday, US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy’s concerns were quoted, as well as his acknowledgment that he doesn’t have the legal authority to require such a warning on websites. Still, he encouraged federal legislators to take action.

“I don’t think we can solely rely on the hope that the platforms can fix this problem on their own,” Dr. Murthy said. “They’ve had 20 years.”

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Dr. Murthy, who has no professional experience involving digital technology or online media, called on tech companies to make changes: to share internal data on the health impact of their products; to allow independent safety audits; and restrict features like push notifications, autoplay and infinite scroll, which he says “prey on developing brains and contribute to excessive use.”

“A warning label would send a powerful message to parents ‘that social media has not been proven safe,’ Dr. Murthy said.

To date, no such legislation has yet been introduced in U.S. Senate or House of Representatives.

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