A new Illinois law forces adults who profit from their kids' content to set aside a percentage of their earnings. Does this go far enough to protect kidfluencers?
From David After Dentist to I Like Turtles, we’ve all watched and enjoyed hilarious videos of kids on the internet. With some viral posts racking up millions of views, the potential income from the rise of the "kidfluencer" is huge. From watching kids unboxing toys to kid gamers on YouTube, the earning potential is an equal playing field with influencers of any age, but, of course, a child cannot control their money the way an adult can.
While sharing family moments on social media can be a way to connect with others and share milestones, more and more parents are monetizing their children's lives online. This brings social media accounts dedicated to the children of account holders with hopes of content going viral and generating likes, shares, and, of course, income. Amid widely discussed concerns surrounding exploitation, the state of Illinois' new law in a groundbreaking first. The state has put in place a new bill that requires parents to set aside a portion of income for children featured in online content.
When SB1782 comes into force on July 1, 2024, this will ensure that kids under the age of 16 appearing in viral videos receive a cut of the generated income. The law currently only applies to video content made in Illinois that generates more than 10 cents per view. However, it is expected that legislation of this type will become more widespread amid concerns surrounding child exploitation and the ever-exploding landscape of content.
So, why is this legislation necessary? Some social media accounts exist where the influencers make up a whole family unit, where a bare all approach to day life is shared with the world. Adults seeking to profit from their child’s likeness will often create an account under their own name in order to bypass age restrictions on major platforms. If successful, this new law could protect influential younger users from unchallenged financial exploitation from parents and guardians, ensuring some measure of protection.
Earning money through sharing children's content can be a lucrative business, but it can potentially create a financial dependence on a child's online persona, which is not sustainable in the long-term and can also be detrimental to the child's well-being as parents sometimes turn to increasingly unhealthy behaviors to maintain the income stream. The decisions parents make regarding their children's online presence can have significant long-term implications for the child's future career, relationships, and overall life trajectory.
The content shared by parents has a lasting digital footprint that children may have to deal with throughout their lives. What might be seen as cute or entertaining today could embarrass or even harm the child in the future. Children cannot provide informed consent like adults can. They might not fully understand the implications of having their personal lives exposed to a wide audience. As children grow older, they might feel their privacy and autonomy were violated by their parents sharing personal moments from their childhood. This can strain parent-child relationships and lead to trust issues.
My own daughter begged me from the age of 10 to have her own YouTube channel. She couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t let her; after all, she was in drama school, had appeared in TV advertisements and theater productions, and very much had aspirations of being a star. Now, almost 10 years later, she is grateful that the internet is absent of what she would consider embarrassing videos and she can make her mark on the world on her own terms.
In the realm of social media, the lines between personal and public persona can blur significantly, often leading to ethical debates and controversies. One example of this emerged when well-known YouTubers Nikki Phillippi and her husband, Dan Phillippi, began the process of adopting a baby from Thailand in 2018. However, their plans hit a roadblock when they discovered a legal stipulation: the adopted child could not be featured on social media for the first year of their life. This restriction caused the couple to reconsider their decision, ultimately leading them to withdraw from the adoption process.
In the video, Nikki said, "Here's the situation, Thailand has its own law that's unique to it that after you pick up your child and they are your child, you are not allowed to talk about them or share any images, photos, videos, anything about them online for a year."
Dan added, "I mean, Nikki's got a YouTube channel, we share a whole lot."
"When that hit, we literally were like, 'What?'" Nikki said. This raised broader questions about the motivations behind sharing intimate family moments online.
The issue of influencers, particularly those with sizeable followings, generating income from sharing their children's lives is a topic fraught with ethical complexities. On one hand, sharing parenthood experiences can provide a sense of relatability, especially for audiences experiencing similar life stages. It can offer valuable insights, advice, and a platform to discuss shared challenges. On the other hand, the commercialization of these moments for profit raises concerns about the child's privacy, consent, and well-being.
This law is a good start. However, I believe that it is more than money that needs to be protected when it comes to sharing the lives of children online. Children need time to develop their identities away from the pressures of online fame. Being constantly in the public eye might impact their self-esteem, social development, and psychological well-being.