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Utah leaders react to call for warning label on social media platforms

Jun 18, 2024, 6:29 PM | Updated: 10:24 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah leaders are reacting to a call from the U.S. surgeon general to include a warning label on social media – just like there are on cigarettes.

In an op-ed this week, Dr. Vivek Murthy said warning labels can increase awareness and change behavior.

“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 wrote.

Utah leaders have been outspoken on the issue of social media and its impact on teenagers. Lawmakers have passed laws targeting social media platforms. The state has also sued TikTok, alleging the company lied about its addictive features and put kids at risk.

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The surgeon general’s call for a warning label is only a recommendation. It would require Congress to act. But Rep. Jordan Teuscher, R-South Jordan, one of the Utah lawmakers who has targeted social media companies through legislation, supports it.

“Social media is just as addictive, if not more so, than tobacco—especially for our children,” Teuscher wrote on X, formerly Twitter. “It’s time we confront this digital epidemic with the seriousness it demands.”

Impact of social media on kids

Aimee Winder Newton, a senior adviser to the governor and director of Utah’s Office of Families, told KSL TV state leaders are “really worried about our kids” as research shows the negative impact social media has on their mental health.

“We need our congressional leaders to step up and to do something, and this is a great idea to do a warning label,” Winder Newton said. “But more needs to be done to help rein in social media companies so that they’re not harming our children.”

According to data shared by the Utah Department of Health and Human Services, nearly all teenagers ages 13-17 reported using a social media platform, and those who spend three hours a day on it have double the risk of mental health problems.

Stefanie Bassett, a Taylorsville mother of six children, said the rules on social media in her house are clear.

“We don’t allow our kids to have social media,” Bassett said. “We’re kind of those grumpy parents, I guess.”

She feels it can be a waste of time and harmful to young minds. She supports the surgeon general’s call for a warning label, saying it would be “helpful.”

“My teenagers would probably tell you that it’s the worst, and all their friends can do it, and we don’t let them,” said Bassett. “But we assure them and teenagers everywhere that we’re not the only parents who are trying to limit these types of social settings that really are more anti-social than social.”

Connection and support

Some LGBTQ groups have highlighted the benefits of social media for teens to find connection and support.

But Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah, told KSL TV it’s a “double-edged sword.”

“While there are some benefits for isolated LGBTQ youth to meet and engage other queer teens,” Williams said, “there are other harms that might outweigh the good.”

Williams cited increased harassment of LGBTQ youth as one of those harms, as found in a 2023 Common Sense Media Survey.

“Obviously, we need more data on the impact on LGBTQ youth, but virtual relationships are poor substitutes for actual in person connections,” Williams said. “Developing a healthy sense of self-acceptance and mental focus is more difficult with algorithms that can rewire young brains in a myriad of unhealthy ways.”

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Utah leaders react to call for warning label on social media platforms