New York City has designated social media as a ‘public health hazard’

New York City has officially become the first city in the US to designate social media as a “public health hazard.” During a State of the City address, Mayor Eric Adams shared that Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan determined apps like Tik Tok and Instagram are considered “environmental toxins” that impose harm onto young teens and adolescents. “We are going to correct this crisis that is facing our children,” Adams said during the address.

Social media, the mayor explained, is fueling the growing mental health crisis in the city. This can be attributed to the addictive nature of these platforms, he added. On X, Adams wrote, “We won’t let Big Tech endanger our kids.” However, besides delivering an advisory warning, the city did not clearly explain how it plans to actually curb the “risk” of social media use. More details about this designation and plans to implement strategies will be explained in the near future.

Social media companies are fueling a mental health crisis, especially for our young people. But we won’t let Big Tech endanger our kids.@NYCHealthCommr Vasan is today issuing an advisory officially designating social media as an environmental toxin in New York City. #SOTC2024

— Mayor Eric Adams (@NYCMayor) January 24, 2024

During a convention in June 2023, NYC officials gathered together stakeholders to discuss possible implications of social media use among young people and recommendations for how to tackle the issue. According to experts, a huge part of the initiative to make social media safer for teens can be accomplished by increasing protocols that enforce better data transparency. Tech companies were called on to improve algorithms and moderate harmful content out of feeds. While the Kids Online Safety Act, the Congressional bill passed last year, places the onus on tech companies to make their platforms safer for children, it’s unclear how a state-specific initiative could logistically tackle the expansive nation-wide issue.

New York City could follow in California’s footsteps and roll out regulations like the California Age-Appropriate Design Code Act (CAADCA), which sets limits on the amount and kind of information a tech company can collect from underage users. While it doesn’t officially become enforceable until July of 2024, when it does, the Attorney General will be able to penalize tech companies with civil fees if they fail to remain compliant. CAADCA is based on the success of policies enforced in the UK designed to protect children online. For example, its enactment encouraged TikTok and Instagram to disable direct messages between children and adults they dont follow on social media.

While New York City’s measures to protect children online is still more of a sentiment than an actionable plan, any moves to further restrict the way tech companies operate in the city might sour some relationships with business leaders and officials. While the social media stance Adams has might be harsh, it could also be perceived as contradictory when considering his administration has been pretty tech-friendly otherwise. For example, the Adams administration openly embraced the rollout of AI within the city’s digital infrastructure. An AI-powered GPT program called the MyCity Chatbot (run on Microsoft Azure’s AI services) is publicly available for New Yorkers to use to help residents find answers about running businesses in the city. Adams’ office is also creating artificial intelligence to make robocalls to residents in several languages.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at 

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