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US Surgeon General Calls for Action on Social Media’s Impact on Youth

Social media influence is impacting youth, claims Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, who is seeking regulatory measures for more control over content to minors.

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In an effort to address the increasing mental health issues among young people, US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy has urged the implementation of warning labels on platforms. Highlighting these concerns in a New York Times opinion piece, Dr. Murthy emphasized the necessity of alerting users, especially teenagers, to the potential risks linked to extensive social media use.

Growing Mental Health Concerns for Adolescents

Dr. Murthy noted that teenagers spending over three hours daily on social media are more likely to show signs of anxiety and depression. “Adolescents who spend more than three hours a day on social media face double the risk of anxiety and depression symptoms,” Dr Murthy said. “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.” The goal of such warning labels is to increase parental awareness and encourage them to regulate their children's online activities.

To implement these warning labels, congressional approval is necessary. Although there is an interest in regulating online child safety and privacy, passing such remains uncertain. For instance, the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA), introduced in 2022, did not advance to a vote. In contrast, a revised version in 2023 has received significant Senate support, though there is no equivalent proposal in the House.

Broader Regulatory Proposals

Dr. Murthy's recommendations also include wider measures to safeguard young users from online dangers like harassment and harmful content. These include limiting data collection from minors, restricting features such as notifications and autoplay, and mandating social media platforms to provide internal research data for public audits. He advocates for tangible safety improvements to be demonstrated by these platforms.

Major tech companies like Meta and are expected to oppose these regulatory proposals. Furthermore, some civil rights organizations might argue that strict internet safety laws could be excessively restrictive. Despite these obstacles, Dr. Murthy remains dedicated to protecting the mental health of young users on social media.

Meta's Role in Underage Social Media Influence

Meta is already under the spotlight in the European Union over its child safety measures on the and platforms. The European Commission has initiated formal proceedings to determine whether Meta, the parent company of  and , has breached the Digital Services Act (DSA) in relation to the protection of minors.

Earlier this year, An exhaustive investigation into over 2.1 million Instagram posts, alongside extensive monitoring of online interactions and discussions among self-proclaimed pedophiles, has revealed a disturbing trend of underage girls being exploited on .

Reporters Jennifer Valentino-DeVries and Michael H. Keller, in a study published by the New York Times, uncover how  accounts managed by the parents of these children have become hotspots for men with predatory inclinations. The allure of social media fame has led numerous parents to post questionable content of their daughters, drawing attention not only from major followers but also from individuals paying large sums to access more content.

New York Ban On Social Media Feeds for Minors

Earlier this month, A bill restricting  algorithms for users under 18 has been approved by the New York Legislature. The new legislation, the Stop Addictive Feeds Exploitation (SAFE) for Kids Act, mandates that platforms like TikTok and Instagram provide reverse-chronological feeds to minors instead of algorithm-driven content. Defined as “addictive feeds”, these algorithms use to personalize content, which is considered detrimental to minors' mental well-being. 

The movement comes as another study found a worrying trend in the general use of social media. Americans are increasingly turning to TikTok for their news, according to a survey conducted by Pew Research Center. This rising trend is especially evident among younger adults who find ‘s approach to delivering information appealing. The study examines how prominent  platforms, such as , TikTok, and X, are reshaping news consumption habits in the U.S.

Luke Jones
Luke Jones
Luke has been writing about all things tech for more than five years. He is following Microsoft closely to bring you the latest news about Windows, Office, Azure, Skype, HoloLens and all the rest of their products.
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