NYC Takes a Bold Stand, Declaring Social Media A Public Threat
The negative effects of social media have been a topic for debate for quite some time. Many claim that it can cause unrealistic expectations and perceptions, increase the risk of predators, and increase the risk of anxiety and depression, among other things. Recently, New York City Mayor Eric Adams delivered his State of the City address, announcing that Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan has declared social media a public health threat. The city will now handle social media like other public risks, ensuring that digital companies take responsibility.
“Platforms with addictive and dangerous features.”
The mayor called on state and federal lawmakers to do more to stop the allegedly predatory practices of certain social media platforms. “We need to protect our students from harm online, including the growing dangers presented by social media. Companies like TikTok, YouTube, and Facebook are fueling a mental health crisis by designing their platforms with addictive and dangerous features. We cannot stand by and let Big Tech monetize our children’s privacy and jeopardize their mental health,” said Mayor Adams.
Many social media platforms require users to be at least 13 years old. But nearly 40% of children 8 to 12 years old and 95% of children 13 to 17 years old use social media platforms, according to the U.S. Surgeon General. In fact, an advisory on how social media affects children and teenager’s mental health was realized by the U.S. Surgeon General.
New York City is the first major city to label social media use as a public health threat officially.
According to that advisory, rates of hopelessness among high schoolers in New York City have increased by 42% since 2011. That year was one of the early years of the social media era. The same was said about suicidal thoughts or ideas: those have also increased by more than 34% among the group over that same time frame.
Dr. Vasan issued a Health Commssioner’s Advisory, officially designating social media as a public health hazard in New York City. He shared his full statement on social media, saying, “We are the first major American city to take this step and call out the danger of social media like this. Just as the surgeon general did with tobacco and guns, we are treating social media like other public health hazards and ensuring that tech companies take responsibility for their products.”
During the address, officials advised parents and guardians to hold off on giving their children access to social media or cell phones until they are at least 14 years old. Additionally, they asked legislators at the federal and state levels to build on legislation that would shield young people from exploitative tactics on social media platforms.
When asked about the impact of social media on mental health, a Meta spokesperson, representing Facebook and Instagram, told ABC News that mental health is a “complex issue.” They pointed out other factors like limited healthcare access, the COVID pandemic, and academic pressure. The Meta spokesperson also expressed a desire to collaborate with schools and experts to better understand these issues and explore how social media can support teens comprehensively.
YouTube representatives told ABC News that they’ve implemented safeguards for young users, including “digital wellbeing features” and removing harmful content. They’re also looking to enhance collaboration with researchers.
TikTok mentioned to ABC News that they’ve added features like bedtime reminders and age restrictions to improve youth mental health. Additionally, they’ve created an API with public data for U.S. researchers.