‘Environmental Toxin’: New York City Mayor Declares Social Media a Health Hazard

gen z selfie

New York City Mayor Eric Adams has declared that social media should be designated a “public health hazard.”

During his State of the City address, Adams called online social platforms an “environmental toxin.”

“Today, Dr. Ashwin Vasan is issuing a Health Commissioner's Advisory, officially designating social media as a public health hazard in New York City,” he said. “We are the first major American city to take this step and call out the danger of social media like this.”

Addictive Features and Responsibility

Phone with list of social media apps
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

Adams went on to call out platforms like TikTok, YouTube, and Facebook, accusing them of “fueling a mental health crisis by designing their platforms with addictive and dangerous features.”

“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,” Adams said.

Young People and Mental Health

Severely distraught young woman sitting in front of a computer with a judgmental hand pointing at her from within the computer monitor cyber bullying her and social media stalking her.
Image Credit: Michael O'Keene/Shutterstock.

According to Pew Research, 59% of adolescents feel more accepted while using social media. However, a 2022 report says that nearly half (46%) of U.S. teens ages 13 to 17 experienced cyberbullying.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data indicates that the incidences of cyberbullying and adolescents taking their own lives are rising in the U.S. A 2023 article published in The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law notes that 13.6% of adolescents have attempted to take their own lives.

Not All Bad

person using mobile phone
Image credit: GalacticDreamer/Shutterstock.

There is evidence to prove that social media can harm teens. On the flip side, there are positive aspects as well. In a 2023 report by U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, 67% of teens felt that social media helped them through tough times, 71% enjoyed expressing their creative side online, and 80% felt more connected to what was going on with their friends.

This connection is lovely, but is it enough? Dr. Murthy isn't convinced. “Our children have become unknowing participants in a decades-long experiment,” he explained on X. “And while there is more we must learn about the full impact, we know enough now to take action and protect our kids.”

Social Response

social media following
Image Credit: 13_Phunkod / Shutterstock.

Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, said that teen mental health concerning social media use is a “complex issue” and indicated other mitigating factors like poor access to health care, the pandemic, and school pressure.

YouTube and TikTok both said they've added increased security for age-related content, with YouTube removing content that “endangers the emotional well-being of minors, including content that promotes self-harm.”

TikTok said they've also added features for younger users like a bedtime reminder, age restrictions, and an improved application program interface, which includes public data on content and accounts on its platform, which it makes available to researchers.

Just the Beginning

Hospital Ward: Handsome Young Boy Resting in Bed, Uses Smartphone, Plays Online Video Games
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

New York's move to protect children from the harmful effects of prolonged social media use is just the beginning.

Congress is also targeting social media companies to help ensure protections for America's most vulnerable citizens. Two bills have been introduced to Congress to help stem the tide of mental health crises related to social media use.

The Kids' Online Safety Act (KOSA) would give tools to families looking for ways to track and report harmful content and control access to social media.

COPPA 2.0 would expand the Children's Online Privacy Protection Rule to ban targeted advertising to children and teens, prohibit the collection of sensitive data for those under 18, and allow users to delete any collected information for teens and children.

Clear Problem, Complicated Solution

Influencer live recording social media vlogging
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

While it's evident that social media can hurt teens' mental health, fixing the problem doesn't have a clear path forward.

Some regulations like COPPA are helping, but getting that information to parents and families needs to be improved. Holding social media platforms accountable is essential to protecting teens and younger users, but so is helping parents understand how they can help. It's important to:

  • Limit access and implement time limits on social media.
  • Have frequent conversations with your child about their lives, school, extracurricular activities, friends, etc.

No amount of regulations, limitations, or bans will make up for involved parents who are active participants in their children's lives. As with all technology, fixing the problem starts at home.