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New York City mayor declares social media an ‘environmental toxin’

Luiz C. Ribeiro for NY Daily News via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) — New York City Mayor Eric Adams is classifying social media as a “public health hazard” and an “environmental toxin,” saying young people must be protected from “harm” online.

“Today, Dr. Ashwin Vasan is issuing a Health Commissioner’s Advisory, officially designating social media as a public health hazard in New York City,” Adams announced during his State of the City address Wednesday.

An advisory from the city said mental health for young New Yorkers “has been declining for over a decade.” The advisory said that data from 2021 showed that on weekdays, 77% of New York City high schoolers spent three or more hours per day in front of screens, not including homework.

Adams claimed TikTok, YouTube and Facebook are “fueling a mental health crisis by designing their platforms with addictive and dangerous features.”

“We are the first major American city to take this step and call out the danger of social media like this,” the mayor said. “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.”

In May 2023, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued an advisory warning that excessive social media use could be a “profound risk” to youth mental health.

The advisory recognized that social media has both positive and negative effects on young people. According to Pew Research, 59% of adolescents reported that social media helps them feel more accepted. But the advisory said ultimately there wasn’t enough “research and clear data” to determine if social media is “safe” for adolescents to use.

“I issued my advisory on social media and youth mental health because the most common question parents ask me is if social media is safe for their kids. While some kids experience benefits from social media, there is not enough evidence to conclude that social media is sufficiently safe,” Murthy told ABC News last year. “Instead, there is more evidence that many kids are harmed by their use of social media.”

“Our children have become unknowing participants in a decades-long experiment,” Murthy said last year. “And while there is more we have to learn about the full impact of social media use on their health and well-being, we know enough now to take action and protect our kids.”

In a response issued at the time of the advisory from Murthy, a representative for Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, referred to mental health as a “complex issue” and pointed toward other contributing factors such as limited access to health care, the COVID-19 pandemic and academic pressure.

Representatives for YouTube told ABC News at the time that they have implemented a variety of safeguards for young users, including adding “digital wellbeing features,” removing content that “endangers the emotional wellbeing of minors or promotes suicide and self-harm,” and “exploring ways to further collaborate with researchers.”

A TikTok spokesperson told ABC News that its companies have added user aids to improve youth mental health, such as bedtime reminders and age restrictions. The company also said that it built an application programming interface that includes public data on content and accounts on the platform, which is available to U.S. researchers.

ABC News’ Ivan Pereira, Shannon Caturano and Peter Charalambous contributed to this report.

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