America’s top doctor has said social media presents a ‘profound risk of harm’ for children and has called for ‘immediate action to protect kids now’.
US surgeon general Dr Vivek Murthy said in an urgent health advisory published Tuesday that the country is experiencing ‘a national youth mental health crisis’ and pointed towards social media as one of the main culprits.
Evidence has been mounting for years that social media is detrimental to youths, due to highly sophisticated algorithms which can promote self-harm and other dangerous content to young users.
Montana became the first state to ban TikTok, due to take effect from January 1, 2024, and lawmakers are pushing for a nationwide ban.
Meanwhile, Facebook owner Meta has hit out at a ‘flawed and unjustified’ fine after it was ordered to pay a record $1.3billion and stop transferring European data to America.
US surgeon general Dr Vivek Murthy said in an urgent health advisory published Tuesday that the country is experiencing ‘a national youth mental health crisis’ as a result of social media
One study of 6,595 children aged 12-15 found that adolescents who spent more than three hours a day on social media had double the risk of experiencing poor mental health outcomes, such as symptoms of depression and anxiety
Studies have found links between social media use and depression and anxiety, plus poor sleep, online harassment and low self-esteem, especially for girls
Up to 95 percent of teens aged 13-17 reported using a social media platform and more than a third said they use it ‘almost constantly’, found a study from the Pew Research Center.
And while 13 is the minimum age for many social media platforms in America, many younger than that are finding their way onto the apps, with close to 40 percent of children aged 8-12 using social media.
Dr Murthy previously said 13 was far too young for children to be on sites such as TikTok and Instagram.
The advisory said: ‘We must acknowledge the growing body of research about potential harms, increase our collective understanding of the risks associated with social media use, and urgently take action to create safe and healthy digital environments.’
It is a well-known fact that the overconsumption of social media is unhealthy, particularly for developing brains.
The advisory lists potential risks of social media over five pages, while taking just half a page to describe the possible benefits.
Studies have found links between social media use and depression and anxiety, plus poor sleep, online harassment and low self-esteem, especially for girls.
One study of 6,595 children aged 12-15 found that adolescents who spent more than three hours a day on social media had double the risk of experiencing poor mental health outcomes, such as symptoms of depression and anxiety.
There are also risks from the type of content that is being viewed online.
A review of more than two dozen studies found that some social media platforms ‘show live depictions of self-harm acts like partial asphyxiation, leading to seizures, and cutting, leading to significant bleeding’.
This can ‘normalize such behaviors’, the advisory warned.
Social media can also create extreme negativity around body image. Some 20 studies found that comparison online was a significant factor in eating disorders.
Overuse of social media can get in the way of key healthy activities, such as sleep, the advisory added.
Apps are designed to keep users hooked through features such as autoplay, infinite scroll and push notifications, plus algorithms tailored specifically to each user.
Some experts believe the stimulation gained from social media can ‘trigger pathways comparable to addiction’.
It suggested that possible pros of social media are the sense of community and connection it offers, especially for LGBTQ youths.
Dr Murthy is optimistic the report will result in more funding and research into the effect of social media, plus policy changes and more transparency from tech companies.
Meanwhile, the number of teenage girls saying they are feeling sad or hopeless persistently has rocketed from 36 to 57 percent within a decade from 2011 to 2021.
The proportion saying they were seriously considering attempting suicide has also risen to 30 percent compared to 19 percent a decade beforehand.
Experts have suggested social media could be a major cause because it encourages people to compare themselves to others, addiction and ‘FOMO’ or fear of missing out.
Meanwhile, TikTok sued Montana on Monday for its state-wide ban of the app, claiming it violates its First Amendment rights.
The lawsuit, filed in Montana federal court, came less than a week after the state become the first in the US to ban the app completely. President Joe Biden last year banned its use on federal government devices.
In the suit, the ByteDance-owned company that has taken the US by storm in recent years, argues the ban violates not only the First Amendment rights of the company, but its users as well.
Governor Greg Gianforte’s ban is due to go into effect on January 1.
TikTok said the ban comes in direct violation of the US Constitution – specifically a clause that limits the authority of states to enact legislation that negatively affects interstate and foreign commerce.
The app claimed it contravenes federal law as it intrudes on matters over which the government holds power.