The regulation of child influencers: A profitable playground
Over the few past years, there has been a professionalization of social media content creators. These creators now have the power to sway their followers, start trends, or serve as role models for their audiences. These individuals, that have such online persuasive power, are called “influencers”. This accruing of power and authority has led to content creation no longer being considered a hobby. In fact, the revenue generated by online content creation is such that it can even become a main source of income. In some cases, influencers can earn thousands of dollars per sponsored post.
The increase in monetary profits resulting from this activity has led to a diversification of influencer categories and to a broadening of the audiences that can be targeted on social media. One influencer category that has significantly spiked in recent years is that of child influencers. This surge in popularity of underage influencers can be explained by multiple different factors. Firstly, they attract young audiences; secondly, “cute” children garner high like counts; and finally, influencers may use their own children as a tool to share their more intimate lives. This helps to strategically engineer a feeling of trust and intimacy in their followers. Thus, this type of content strengthens the loyalty of their fan base.
As the number of child influencers has risen, so too have their monetary profits. For example, the French influencers “Swan et Neo” (respectively eight and fifteen years old) have accumulated over five million subscribers on YouTube. This channel, managed by their parents, consists mainly of game reviews and challenges, but equally features sponsored videos. Given the number of sponsorships and the sheer number of loyal subscribers it has amassed, one can clearly imagine the financial success it enjoys. In this case, the line between hobby and labor is disturbingly blurred. De facto, multiple legal issues arise from this activity, namely whether child influencers should be protected from the potential embezzlement of parents, and whether such activities should be considered child labor.
French parliamentarian Bruno Studer recently proposed legislation for the regulation of child influencers under sixteen years of age. This legislation, adopted unanimously in the General Assembly, was passed on October 19th, 2020. This French law, which will lead to modifications of the country’s labour code, and which regulates child influencers on the basis of child labor protections, shares similarities with other laws concerning child labor, such as those regarding underage models or minors in the entertainment industry. The protections implemented under this new law include the deposit of the profits earned by the child influencer into an account at the Caisse des Dépôts et Consignation. These funds can only be mobilized when the child becomes an adult or in other extremely rare cases (such as in the case of emancipated minors). The income generated by the child’s activities is thus safeguarded from potential embezzlement from the child’s parents.
While the proposal to protect child influencers was still being considered by the General Assembly, we interviewed its originator, Bruno Studer. Mr.Studer commented that “the internet reshuffles all cards, both public and private. There is a difference between work and play. […] We are faced with a legal vacuum and we have to respond to it. In France, we have legislation that is very progressive with regards to children in the entertainment industry or child models”.
France is taking the lead in the protection of child influencers. Indeed, other European countries are still struggling to provide an efficient answer to an issue that seems unusual or unheard-of to many legislators. For instance, similar issues are not specific to France. In the Netherlands, four year-old influencer Quenisha Qiana can be seen on her account photographed by her mother, who concludes contracts on her behalf with fashion or haircare brands. At European level, the harmonization of laws surrounding these issues is desirable in the coming years as child influencers continue to increase their presence known on social media. Mr Bruno Studer has the confidence that this French legislation will put a spotlight of the issue on different Member States : “I hope that other countries will follow the path laid out by France on this topic. […] Perhaps countries will want the same protection for child influencers, more specifically for child YouTubers. Indeed, child labor within the scope of the influencer industry is greater in proportion to other industries where it was until now relatively limited. […] (The implementation of laws protecting child influencers) also depends on the political culture of the country in question”.
Only time will tell whether this first step toward the regulation of child influencers will indeed lead to similar approaches in other European Union countries. In the meantime, influencer children are still lacking legal protections against the possible exploitation by parents, making them a vulnerable group.
Written by Nicole Binder and Adrien Dubois - more blogs on Law Blogs Maastricht
Nicole Binder and Adrien Dubois are European Law School Bachelor students, members of the Influencer Law Clinic and of the Computational Social Media research group.