In August, Illinois became the first state in the United States to enact a law aimed at protecting minors who are featured in monetized online content, such as YouTube and Instagram videos. Currently, child influencers – or kidfluencers – are not entitled to the money their parents earn on such platforms that may be using their image or likeness.
With some kidfluencers making upwards of $26 million in a year doing sponsored and monetized content, the lack of protection for them under current labor laws has fueled concern about exploitation. While legislation has been established to protect child actors, kidfluencers aren’t covered. Rules and regulations to protect children simply aren’t keeping up with the expanding business of social media and kidfluencers.
The difference between kidfluencers and child actors
Kidfluencers are typically not viewed as actors, even when they do sponsored content. Not only do most kidfluencers work in a private home setting, but there is no clear employer-employee relationship. Additionally, most of what they do is viewed as ‘normal daily activities’ or ‘play’ rather than a performance like one would expect from an actor. However, with large sponsorship deals on the line – accounts with more than one million followers can easily earn $10,000 for a single sponsored post – some parents and guardians may get swept away and forget that their child is, in fact, doing work.
Child actor laws establish the amount of time a child can physically work during a week, kidfluencers may work 24/7. Because the content is about their everyday life, they are essentially always on the clock, even if their parents don’t see it that way. As one mother of kidfluencer twins told The Guardian, “The thing I always stress is that we work, the girls do not.” And a father of another kidfluencer noted that, “If there’re days they’re totally not into it, they don’t have to be… Unless it’s paid work. Then they have to be there. We always have lollipops on those days.”
Legislation to protect kidfluencers
The Illinois law, that goes into effect July 1, 2024, holds that a vlogger – an individual or family that creates video content performed within the state in exchange for compensation – featuring a minor child in at least 30% of their monthly content, must set aside a portion of revenue into a trust for the minor, and the minor alone, to access when they reach 18 years old.
This is very similar to the Coogan Law established in California in 1939, after Jackie Coogan discovered at the age of 21 that all the money he earned as a child actor had been entirely spent by his mother and stepfather and there was barely anything left for him to live on. After attempting to sue his mother for the remainder of the earnings, the judge ruled that he had no right to those earnings as he was a minor at the time it was earned and thus legally belonged to his parents. The Coogan Law has been revised several times since then, but it still only guarantees a child actor 15% of their earnings.
Although the Illinois law is the first of its kind in the U.S., France enacted legislation in 2021 that pioneered the protection of kidfluencer earnings and enshrined the ‘right to be forgotten’ for children under 16. The law establishes that even without their parents’ consent, a child may request videos of themselves be deleted and video platforms must oblige.
Similar legislation has since been introduced in Pennsylvania, with the expectation that more states may follow suit.