lifestyle PR + digital media

Open question: how do we feel about child influencers?

February 27, 2020

Every era has its child stars. Will the platform of choice for this era’s child stars be Youtube?

Some of us are old enough to remember (or, uh, scroll all the way back on our Insta feeds) back in 2011 when getting 20 likes on a grainy, highly edited photo was a WIN. 

Today, actual, literal children get half a million likes on Instagram photos and partner with Target on clothing lines. 

Of course, child stars are nothing new. Famous kids have been making money for themselves and their parents/managers for ages; think Shirley Temple, the Olsen twins, Honey Boo Boo. Every generation has its own child star—and the corresponding moral qualms that come with watching said star’s childhood play out on TV. 

But today’s child stars are primarily featured on Youtube and Instagram. And while many of them are teens—which definitely feels like a more normal age for youth to be sharing their lives online—plenty of them are toddlers and even infants.

At Sprocket, our clients’ products typically aren’t child-oriented, so we haven’t worked with child influencers. But given the momentum behind child influencers, we dove into the topic—and we came up with more questions than answers.  

For one: how is it possible that a kid too young to legally have an account on Youtube or Instagram has an account with millions of followers? (Both Youtube and Instagram require users to be 13 or older to create an account.) Of course, most of these kids’ accounts are run by their parents, so in that sense, they’re perfectly legal. 

Largely, child influencers aren’t protected by the same laws that child actors are protected by. In California, for example, the ‘Coogan Act’—named for one of the first child movie stars, Jackie Coogan—requires that 15% of money earned by child stars must be set aside in a trust. The other 85% can be used on expenses related to the care of the child, but the money is still owned by the child rather than their parents.

As with any new technology—and with social media as a whole—regulatory agencies need to catch up on how child influencers are treated under the law. 

But beyond the legality, isn’t there an ethical issue at play here? 

We would argue yes: a kid who is opening a box filled with toys from a brand is still doing an unboxing—which is work, not play. 

Not that it’s impossible for parents to parent well while also managing their kid’s social media career. This piece outlines several such parents, and is worth a read. But the ethical challenges raised by parenting a child influencer are enormous.  

Also, is it ethical for child influencers to advertise products to their peers when those peers can’t understand that they’re watching an ad? 

These are just some of the questions raised by the concept of child influencers. We don’t have a good answer on the ethical implications of working with child influencers. But the numbers don’t lie: the influencer industry will grow into a $5-$10 billion industry this year, and child influencers are a major driver for that growth. 

As the number of child influencers grows, we hope that regulators will take child stars into account, and that brands will think ethically when collabing with child influencers. 

Do you follow any child influencer accounts? Would you purchase a product that you saw advertised by a child influencer?