The data now exist for Acting Surgeon General Rear Admiral Boris D. Lushniak, M.D., MPH to place a warning label on the Facebook homepage, not unlike that which exists on packages of tobacco cigarettes.
Facebook has been linked, in numerous clinical trials both here and around the world, to feelings of intense envy, dissatisfaction with life, insomnia, major depression, disrupted friendships and feelings of isolation -- especially in young people.
Facebook may well be addictive, as well—just like tobacco.
Many young people have told me, in my practice of psychiatry, that they want to stop using Facebook and feel it negatively impacts their lives, but “just can’t stop.” My colleagues tell me they are hearing the same thing from their patients.
The number of people at risk for psychological damage from Facebook is in the hundreds of millions, in North America alone (with hundreds of millions more at risk, around the globe). And, I would argue, there is now plenty of evidence that people should be warned by the nation’s most prominent public health official that, “Academic research studies have determined that using Facebook may be dangerous to your health and may cause serious psychiatric symptoms.” In the alternate, a warning could state, “Academic Research Suggests Facebook Use Is Addictive and May Cause Psychiatric Disorders.”
Placing such a warning on Facebook would be a first, serious step by the U.S. government to alert the public to known hazards of Facebook use, and over-use. It would also set the stage for putting Facebook on notice that they cannot ignore the growing number of studies that link their product to more than one illness.
I have written before that class action lawyers are, no doubt, eyeing Facebook for its liability in causing or deepening psychiatric disorders in, perhaps, hundreds of thousands of cases.
The only reason the Surgeon General would fail to act would be if he considers psychiatric/psychological disorders to not be as serious as physical ones. Because if it were seriously suspected -- and backed up by studies around the world -- that swimming pools were causing diabetes or hypertension in hundreds of thousands of Americans, you can bet there would be posters required to warn folks of the possible danger.
Certainly, the National Institute of Mental Health should launch a very large scale trial of the impact of Facebook on adolescents and teenagers, to start with. But there is no reason to wait for that more expanded data to flow in.
Facebook endangers users’ psychological well-being. I believe the company knows this -- or should know it -- and bear liability for any harm done users from use/overuse of the drug they are selling, from today, forward. And, I believe the Surgeon General knows it, too. Now, he should make sure all Americans are put on notice.
Keith Ablow, MD is a psychiatrist, and was host of the nationally-syndicated "Dr. Keith Ablow Show." He is a former member of the Fox News Medical A Team.