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Surgeon General warns that social media can harm children and young people


The advisory noted that technology companies have a vested interest in keeping users online and that they use tactics that entice people to engage in addictive-like behavior. “Our children have become unwitting participants in a decades-long experiment,” the guidance states.

A spokesman for Meta, the owner of Instagram and Facebook, said the guidance contained recommendations that “are reasonable and, to a large extent, Meta has already implemented.” These measures include automatically making the accounts of people under 16 private when they sign up for Instagram and restricting types of content teens can watch on the app.

TikTok did not immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday afternoon.

The advisory did not provide guidance on what healthy use of social media might look like, nor did it condemn the use of social media for all young people. Instead, it concluded: “We do not yet have enough evidence to decide whether social media is sufficiently safe for children and young people.”

The Surgeon General’s position lacks any real power beyond its potential as a bully pulpit, and Dr. Murthy’s advice does not carry law or policy. It was intended, the report said, to draw Americans’ attention to “an urgent public health problem” and to make recommendations on how to address it.

Similar reports by former surgeons general helped shift the national conversation around smoking in the 1960s, drew attention to HIV and AIDS in the 1980s, and declared in the early 2000s that obesity had become a nationwide epidemic. Dr. Murthy has declared gun violence an epidemic and has denounced what he has called a “public health crisis of loneliness, isolation and the lack of connection in our country.”

In the interview on Monday, Dr. Murthy that the lack of clarity around social media was a huge burden for users and families to bear.

“It’s a lot to ask of parents to take on a new technology that’s rapidly evolving and is fundamentally changing how children perceive themselves,” said Dr. Murthy. “So we need to do what we do in other areas where we have product safety issues, which is to establish safety standards that parents can trust and that are actually enforced.”

Remy Tumin contributed with reporting.

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