New York City Designates Social Media a Public Health Hazard

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New York City on Wednesday designated social media a public health hazard for its effect on youth mental health, becoming the first major city in the United States to take such a step, Mayor Eric Adams (D) said in an address.

“Companies like TikTok, YouTube, Facebook are fueling a mental health crisis by designing their platforms with addictive and dangerous features,” Adams said in the annual State of the City address.

In response, he said, New York City Health Commissioner Ashwin Vasan “is issuing a health commissioner advisory officially designating social media as a public health crisis hazard in New York City.”

“Just as the [U.S.] surgeon general did with tobacco and guns, we are treating social media like other public health hazards and it must stop,” Adams said.

In an advisory issued the same day, Vasan outlined the deteriorating state of youth mental health in New York City and offered guidance to young people on encouraging healthy social media use, such as by implementing tech-free times and places; monitoring emotions during use; and sharing concerns related to social media and mental health with adults.

Up to 95 percent of U.S. teens use some form of social media, many finding a place to connect with friends, discuss interests and keep up on trends. But with young people facing an unprecedented mental health crisis that some have linked to social media, there are growing concerns about the use of these platforms and the addictive habits they can form.

Several social media companies including TikTok and YouTube have responded to mounting scrutiny by adding new features to give parents more control over their children’s activity and limit the time they spend online, according to a Washington Post analysis.

TikTok, Google and Meta did not immediately respond to request for comment early Thursday.

In May last year, Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy issued an advisory that said there isn’t enough evidence to determine whether social media is “sufficiently safe for children and adolescents.” In an op-ed for The Post, Murthy wrote: “In light of the ongoing youth mental health crisis, it is no longer possible to ignore social media’s potential contribution to the pain that millions of children and families are experiencing.”

The advisory released Wednesday by the New York City health commissioner said that between 2011 and 2021, rates of high-schoolers in the city experiencing hopelessness increased by more than 42 percent and rates of suicidal ideation increased by more than 34 percent.

Ofir Turel, a professor at the University of Melbourne in Australia who studies the behavioral effects of technology, praised New York City’s advisory for acknowledging the possible risks of social media while not calling for its complete elimination.

Turel pointed to issues with “body image, social comparison, depression, [and] addiction-like use” as among the possible ills of social media, but he said “it has many positive aspects” too.

He advocated for what he called the “food regulation model,” which encourages healthy habits through approaches such as nutrition labels on foods, rather than imposing restrictions.

“While we are not very good at it, many people manage to have somewhat healthy food intake. Social media is the same,” he said. “We just need knowledge and incentives.”

(c) 2024 , The Washington Post · Kelsey Ables 


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