OPINION: There Needs to be Regulations Regarding the Monetization of Children on Social Media

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With the rise of social media, the controversial niche of “sharenting” has also grown in popularity. Sharenting refers to parents sharing content of their children on social media for monetary gain through brand deals, affiliate links or sponsored posts, among others. This niche has become highly controversial, mainly because of the lack of rules and regulations concerning how much sensitive information about a child you can share. Also, who is in charge of deciding what cut of profits belongs to the child? 

Currently, family bloggers are not bound to child labor laws, and are not required to give the children any cut of their profit. How do we make social media a safe place for parents to share about their kids without it becoming exploitation and oversharing? How can children understand the impact of willingly consenting to being online? These kids can grow up and suffer mentally as a result of exploitation and oversharing. As developing humans, they cannot fully consent and are not aware of what they’d be consenting to. They have no idea about the long-term effects of family blogging.

There needs to be improved legislation to ensure that this does not happen as the number of child influencers explodes. It’s one thing to share pictures of your kids on their birthdays and a completely different thing to be profiting off of content featuring them. Adults can choose to put their lives online, but kids cannot. When these children grow up, they have no power over posted content with them in it.

One of the first pieces of legislation ever passed concerning children in entertainment was the Coogan Act. This was passed in 1939, named after a former child actor named Jackie Coogan. He’s generally referred to as the first child actor in America. Jackie Coogan attained fame after acting as Charlie Chaplin’s son in a 1921 film called “The Kid,” but after growing up, he learned that the 4 million dollars he’d earned had been completely spent by his mother and stepfather. This law protects children who work as actors, actresses, dancers, musicians, comedians, singers or any other qualifying kind of performer. However, these regulations have yet to be adopted for child influencers and children of influencers.

In Washington state, they’ve introduced new child rights legislation that would give children of influencers legal protection. The bill itself is based on the historical precedent previously established by the Coogan Act. The bill, if it passes, will mean that the parents of children who are featured in online content would be legally required to ensure that the children receive appropriate compensation for any and all profit-generating media. It also takes it a step further by requiring parents to set a portion of their revenue aside in a separate fund. This fund would become accessible to the children when they became adults. There aren’t only monetary regulations, though. This law would give children the right to petition to have their videos and other involved content be deleted once they become adults. Testimonies have been given at hearings from people who had to go through situations like this as children, like Cam Barrett. 

The law was partially inspired by Chris McCarty, who launched an advocacy campaign called Quit Clicking Kids after reading about influencer Mika Stauffer. She and her husband came under fire and extreme controversy for relinquishing their newly adopted child back to the state after profiting from the vlogs that they’d posted to YouTube. Stauffer had adopted a special-needs young boy from China with autism and “rehomed” him three years later.

Another example of child exploitation is that of Machelle Hobson. She had seven adopted children that she showcased online to over 800 thousand subscribers. In March 2019, she was arrested on counts of child molestation, child abuse, child neglect and unlawful imprisonment. She would punish the children when they couldn’t recall their lines or didn’t want to participate by pepper spraying them and starving them.

Even if this law is passed, it would only affect children living in Washington, and there are fears that families could simply move to different states. Hopefully, Washington passing this law will set a precedent and cause these kinds of laws to be implemented in more and more states. This would bring America a long way in solving the ethical, financial and moral problems of the monetization of children on social media.