New York City Mayor Eric Adams Declares Social Media a Public Health Threat
In a bold move, New York City Mayor Eric Adams has officially classified social media as a “public health hazard” and an “environmental toxin,” emphasizing the need to protect young people from the potential harm inflicted by these online platforms.
The announcement, made during his State of the City address, comes in response to a perceived decline in mental health among young New Yorkers.
Public Health Hazard for Youth
According to a Health Commissioner’s Advisory issued by Dr. Ashwin Vasan, mental health for the city’s youth has been on a downward spiral for over a decade. Recent data from 2021 revealed that 77% of high schoolers in New York City spend three or more hours per day in front of screens on weekdays, excluding homework.
Mayor Adams directly implicated popular platforms like TikTok, YouTube, and Facebook, accusing them of contributing to a mental health crisis through the design of their platforms, which he claims include addictive and dangerous features.
The mayor’s approach is groundbreaking, as New York City becomes the first major American city to officially designate social media as a public health hazard, following in the footsteps of Surgeon General Vivek Murthy’s advisory in May 2023.
Surgeon General Murthy’s advisory highlighted the potential risks of excessive social media use on youth mental health, acknowledging both positive and negative effects.
While 59% of adolescents reported feeling more accepted due to social media, the advisory concluded that there was insufficient “research and clear data” to determine its overall safety for adolescents.
Tech Giants Respond as New York City Takes a Stand
In response to concerns raised by the advisory, Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, cited mental health as a “complex issue” and pointed to other contributing factors such as limited access to healthcare, the COVID-19 pandemic, and academic pressure.
YouTube and TikTok representatives highlighted various safeguards and features aimed at protecting young users, including digital well-being features, content removal policies, and collaborations with researchers.
Mayor Adams framed the city’s approach as akin to the actions taken by the Surgeon General with tobacco and guns, asserting that it is time for tech companies to take responsibility for the potential harm caused by their products.
As the debate around the impact of social media on youth mental health intensifies, New York City’s classification of social media as a public health hazard sets a precedent for other cities to reassess the role of these platforms in the well-being of their citizens.