"Extremely harmful effects" on the mental health of children and youth. These are the problems that social networks could cause for young people exposed to "dangerous" content, showing for example violent or sexual acts. "We are in the midst of a national youth mental health crisis, and I am concerned that social media is an important driver of this crisis, which we must urgently address," U.S. Public Health Administrator Vivek Murthy said in a statement accompanying a 19-page report.
More research is needed to "better understand the effects of social networks" on young people, but "there is ample evidence" that they can have negative consequences. By pushing teenagers to compare themselves, these platforms can weaken their self-esteem. Young girls could be even more vulnerable. The use of these platforms puts them more exposed than boys to cyberbullying or even the development of eating disorders, according to research cited by Vivek Murthy.
95% of U.S. youth aged 13 to 17 say they use a social network
The chief medical officer added that tech companies should enforce a "minimum age" for children to join their social networks, and create default settings that better protect their privacy. Up to 95% of young Americans aged 13 to 17 say they use a social network, a third of whom use it "almost constantly," according to the Pew Research Center.
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Social networks, and particularly their effects on younger people, are a source of concern in the United States.
Montana last week signed into law a law to ban the TikTok app next year, becoming the first U.S. state to take such a move. In addition to the issue of data and misinformation, local elected officials criticized the platform for its harmful effects on the mental health of young people. Even if Democratic representatives had retorted that these risks also applied to other social networks.
In March, Utah passed a law requiring social networks to obtain parental consent before granting minors access to their platforms.