The exploitation of children on social media: kidfluencers

Fan Art of people using phones and social media - Getty Images.

While the Coogan Law protects the rights of child performers such as actors, singers, and dancers, those of the children who work on social media still aren’t granted. And this problem is far more concerning than it would seem at first glance.

Most social media have age restrictions in order to protect younger generations from both actual crimes, such as grooming and pornography, and secondary threats, as in bullying. However, these restrictions only apply when it comes to creating a profile, whereas they don’t actually concern the content creation for those same platforms.

Corporate hypocrisy is hardly surprising, but in this case there is much more at stake than a company’s image and integrity.

When it comes to children and minors creating content for social media, one must separate two different possible scenarios: kidfluencers and family channels. And yet, it is always the parents who profit off of their children’s work the most.

A fitting example of kidfluencer, would be the 11-year-old Ryan Kaji, star of the YouTube channel formerly known as Ryan ToysReview (now Ryan’s World). His videos are a combination of educational science experiments, pranks, vlogs, and reviews.
Although his parents might be the ones editing videos and engaging with his followers, Ryan still has to sit in front of the camera for many hours and learn actual scripts. And that’s exactly what a (child) actor does!

But what is a kidfluencer?
In order to be actually considered a kidfluencer you need a large following and to be promoting sponsored items –and in Ryan’s case that’s mostly toys – while creating social media content. This means that money is at stake.
To be fair, labels such as influencer, micro-influencer, content creator, and others are always changing. And they do so at a surprising speed, making it difficult for legislators all around the world to keep up with the newest trends and developments.

But the lack of specific labor laws is much more alarming when it impacts the lives of children and minors.
Since these children’s career on social media is often time-sensitive, parents might try to make the most of it and seize the moment. But this could mean for children to be dropped out of school and homeschooled, so that school hours don’t get in the way of their work obligations (yeah, you read it right). And it would cause them to lose important socialization opportunities as well.

The gap in legislation is troubling on the financial side as well. These creators don’t own any of the money they earn through their sponsored post and the ads on their social media platforms.
And while this is the exact same situation child actors had to experience before the Coogan Law came into force back in 1939, things might be even worse now for – at least – two different reasons.

Firstly, it is even more difficult for kidfluencers and children whose parents own a family channel to separate their work from their everyday life than it was for child performers. Mundane things, like family trips and play dates, are all camera-worthy moments – especially if there’s a product to sponsor.
Secondly, we all know what the side effects of growing up in the public eye can be. And these children get even more exposure than what we all thought was possible just a few years ago.

A further problem when it comes to the legal protection of underage content creators is represented by the difficulties and limitations a legislator might encounter when trying to regulate the parents’ powers on their own children!
This hurdle becomes even more difficult to jump if the parents are the primary content creators and the involvement of their children in their social media content is an almost indirect result. This is the case with family channels and with influencers who constantly post their children in order to profit off of them, as if they were an easy clickbait.

Some influencers’ children even have their own fan pages… But as absurd as this might sound, there is even more to cover and unpack.
You will have to stay tuned in order to read more about children exploitation on family channels in an upcoming article!

Polyglot, stand-up enthusiast, Law student. 23, from Italy.

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