New York City is designating social media as an “environmental toxin,” blaming it for a mental health crisis among teens.
“We won’t let Big Tech endanger our kids,” Mayor Eric Adams said on X on Wednesday, adding that it would be “the first major American city” to treat social media “like other public health hazards” such as guns and tobacco.
While some quickly pointed out the hypocrisy for Adams to announce the classification on social media, the move reignited debate on the extent governments should go to in restricting teens’ social media use.
More research is needed on social media’s impact on mental health
Officials often blame social media for worsening mental health, but “there is much we still don’t know” about the specific correlations between social media and adolescent health, according to a December report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. While dozens of studies in recent years show that social media has the potential to harm adolescent health, the population samples from the studies are small, and they do not take into account other independent variables. Previous studies have suggested that social media is particularly toxic for teenage girls, but the Academies’ report notes that other factors like media literacy, supportive parents, and a positive school environment can mitigate its negative effects. The report suggests that future research on social media’s impact will need to be evaluated on a “case-by-case basis,” NBC News reported, given varying external factors among teens and their families.
Proposed social media bans show legislators’ ‘lack of digital literacy’
Countries like the UK are considering banning teens from social media, with some lawmakers more recently proposing restricting teens from using smartphones in an effort to combat the mental health crisis. But these proposals are “utterly ridiculous,” showcasing lawmakers’ “lack of digital literacy” and understanding of how teenagers use social media, podcaster Oli Dugmore argued on PoliticsJoe. He said that lawmakers’ perception of social media is limited to incels, pornography, and “drug dealers on Snapchat,” without acknowledging how social media can be used to create safe spaces for communities like LGBTQ youth. Some academics believe that instead of bans, legislators should work on drafting media literacy curriculum that can teach teens how to safely navigate social media, Semafor previously reported.
Social media’s misinformation problem is becoming a public health crisis
Public health officials say misinformation and disinformation is partly driving vaccine hesitancy, amid a rise in measles cases in the U.S. and other Western countries. Political leaders who post anti-vax rhetoric on social media can “intensify some followers’ vaccine hesitancy,” TIME Magazine reported. A 2020 study found that Trump voters who were shown the then-president’s anti-vaccination tweets became more concerned about COVID vaccines. Some leaders think that the answer to the misinformation crisis means embracing — not rejecting — social media: one UK politician on Tuesday proposed funding a vaccine encouragement campaign on TikTok to fight the measles outbreak.