Young children face dangers online

At VidCon, Southern California’s annual gathering of digital creators, the most successful influencers roam around exclusive lounges, receiving free swag and placing photos on curated backgrounds or rotating platforms.

Jabria, Laurie, and Zan are no different from the other attendees in terms of their massive online presence. But unlike the others, who are mostly in their teens and early twenties, these three — whose video shows have garnered millions of views — are only five or six years old, and are accompanied by their daycare owner turned Katrina.

They’re part of the newer generation of so-called child creators – or “baby influencers” – who have reached viral stardom on platforms like TikTok, Instagram and YouTube at a young age.

Brand deals and “creator money” from these social media platforms have made the impact on a viable – if not celebrated – career. according to Survey 2019 By Harris Poll and Lego, of 3,000 kids aged eight to 12 in the US, UK and China, nearly 30 per cent said they aspire to be YouTubers when they grow up – and top other popular professions like astronaut or Music .

Some kids create videos with easy-to-use editing tools developed by the platforms. Others are thrown into the free world of the internet by parents sharing their content – “sharing”. In the most involved, mummy bloggers may make posts as social media personalities themselves before creating accounts about or for their children, and sometimes while they are in the womb.

And there are parents who run “family channels” that usually show home life or intergenerational comedy. The Bucket List family, who share weekly YouTube videos of their trips and “family home life adventures,” has 2.6 million followers on Instagram, while Kabs’ parents gave up their jobs to run a family YouTube channel and have 1.2 million followers on Instagram.

Alternatively, the outsider may be the main character. Gabriia, Laurie, and Zane appear with Katrina’s 20-year-old son Aaron Hines on TikTok, “Are You Smarter Than a Preschool Child?” He asks them questions they are unlikely to understand; They give naive and imaginary responses. “They enjoy it, they love shooting videos,” Katrina told me, adding that they now have sponsorship deals with brands like Puma, money for their future and lots of free merchandise.

Intimate viewing, perhaps. But kids face the same safety risks as any social media user – potentially falling victim to cyberbullying, scammers, or privacy violations.

As Brooke Erin Duffy, associate professor in the Department of Communications at Cornell University, says, these kids have young minds with cutting-edge digital literacy. “I don’t know if they fully understand the implications of amplifying everything you do, and having a digital footprint that will follow you for who knows for how long.”

When I watched some kids at VidCon in June who were too shy to look them in the eye as an adult, but encouraged by their parents in the spotlight, I wondered about the risks of exploitation.

Some parents rely on influencer accounts for their children or family pages as their primary income. Others may use a child to boost their fame. But can a child distinguish between work versus leisure? Do they understand the meaning of fair wage? Does the money they earn make it into their pockets? “When parents get involved, there is a lack of agency,” Duffy says.

The UK and US have strong labor and performer laws to protect child actors and musicians – but they don’t extend into the Wild West for user-generated content, which remains a legal gray area. In Britain, a Parliamentary Committee He recently called for more controls to bridge this “legislative gap”. similar calls It was conducted by American academics.

Parents and guardians must bear the brunt of responsibility for their children. But talent agencies and advertisers can step up and set new standards. They have always treated children as an effective sales force, who, according to researchers, can be more effective than adults at selling toys, games, and services to other children.

Crystal Abedin, a digital anthropologist and assistant professor at Australia’s Curtin University, argues that agencies are largely reluctant to act because of the potential cost or disruption to business. “When you talk about childhood marketing . . . brands are the gatekeepers in shaping and accelerating the industry,” she adds.

hannah.murphy@ft.com

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