You may have heard of social media influencers, but an idea you may not be so familiar with is the existence of ‘kidfluencers’. These kids under the age of 16 have built an online platform and presence, some of whom have amassed millions of followers and views.
The existence of young social media stars is something that has received a lot of attention in recent years, and it has been met with positive praise, negative criticism and downright confusion.
Although finding fame at a young age is no modern phenomenon, kids having the agency to achieve their own level of fame online is still an idea that society is getting used to.
Many worry that putting such young people online can be harmful, believing it may be a breach of their privacy as well as their safety. But is it right to be worried about how much we share of children online?
A Dive Into The World Of Kidfluencers
The kids’ influencer genre has continued to diversify over the years as it has gained popularity. This includes everything from kid baking channels to lifestyle and travel channels to toy channels.
As there are now so many online platforms where one can gain a social media presence (the most well-known including places like Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok) these kidfluencers can gain multiple followings across several platforms and thus can gain a lot of visibility online.
For example, Everleigh Rose, a 10-year-old dancer, has gained over 5 million followers on Instagram and nearly 4 million subscribers on her YouTube account.
There are also online gamers like EthanGamer who has garnered over 3 billion views on his YouTube and Toyko-based 11-year-old Coco. Coco is already a fashion influencer who has not only got over 500k followers on Instagram but has already worked with major brands like Gucci, Burberry and Marc Jacobs.
From having a social media platform, kids can not only gain a large online following but, like fashion influencer Coco, can even get the chance to work with major brands and even secure a brand deal.
Working with brands means these channels can be used as a way to generate revenue. This would allow these kidfluencers to start building up an income and, due to their age, this is primarily where parents and guardians will need to be involved as under-16s are not old enough to open their own bank account or will need a parent’s permission to do so.
Although many parents will need to involve themselves in managing a child’s account and its earnings for their own protection, their involvement also begs the question – could children be exploited by their parents for financial gain, and should parents even be encouraging their kid to have an online presence in the first place?
The Dangers Of Being A Kidfluencer And The Role Of Parents
So-called ‘kidfluencers’ are classified as being under the age of 16. This means that whilst some may be old enough to handle their own account and understand the consequences of having so much shared online, many will be young enough to need their account managed by a parent or guardian.
But not only may a child’s account be managed by a parent or guardian, but so might their earning.
Of course, it is doubtless that many kidfluencers will have become influencers out of their own choice and free will. However, it is important to stay alert to the dangers that may come with a parent or guardian having control of a child’s social media account and income.
Parents may use or overwork their kids to make income against their will and take the money they earn for themselves.
Furthermore, a parent may abuse the safety and privacy of their child by sharing too much of them online. As kidfluencers can be so young, they may not understand the risks that come with having an online presence. In this case, it is critical for the parent to take precautions to prevent the subsequent risks that can come from having an online following.
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This leaves many wondering: should parents really be encouraging their kids to have an online presence if there are risks of them abusing a child’s safety as well as their earnings?
Recently, in the BBC podcast Tech Life, the question was asked: do we share too much about kids online?
In the podcast, Martha Lane Fox spoke to a parent of an unnamed kidfluencer based in India. She explained that her daughter does one video a week for YouTube and that she and her team do the script and editing, claiming it is like an acting hobby for her daughter and that she believes a parent should always help to encourage their child in their hobby.
Although she did not disclose the money her daughter makes from YouTube she did agree it was “a lot” but that the family would keep the money for her until she is in higher education.
The conversation presents just how much influence a parent can have in their child’s account and the money it generates.
How Are We Protecting These Young Influencers?
So, a kidfluencer may face the internal dangers of being exploited by a parent or guardian and the external danger of being bullied, harassed or abused online.
In the Tech Life podcast, an agent from an unnamed kids talent agency based in Mumbai proceeded to speak to Fox about the opportunities being a kidfluencer can have, but also the dangers.
She describes that in 2020, YouTube Kids was the largest installed app globally. This figure demonstrates the level of popularity and opportunity a kidfluencer can have on the platform. However, she describes the success of kidfluencers as a “double-edged sword”.
Kids may face bullies and trolls, they may be overworked by their manager or pressurised by their brand deals. This could, in turn, make a kid struggle to participate in school.
The agent tells Fox that she believes the best way for a kid to be protected is by having a good support system, and there being regulatory laws made for kids that ensure their protection.
In 2020, France introduced a new law that attempts to protect kidfluencers through child labour rules. Under this legislation, parents and companies must seek permission from authorities to produce commercial videos featuring an under 16-year-old for video-sharing platforms where the duration of the filming or the revenue earned by the video exceeds set thresholds.
Failure to do so can lead to significant fines and five years imprisonment.
In May 2022, the UK House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee published the report Influencer culture: Lights, camera, inaction? This highlighted concern over children’s privacy rights and the possibility of exploitation of labour.
However, the UK is still lagging behind in enforcing tighter restrictions. Last year, The Guardian called for the government to do better to protect the rights of children online: “The government must introduce legislation to protect child social media influencers from exploitation, investigate adult pay standards in the industry and do more to force influencers to flag paid-for content”
So, are we really doing enough to keep kids safe on social media? If not, with the popularity of kidfluencers at an all-time high, isn’t now the time to decide: is it is really responsible to allow kids so much freedom online?