Ela Kir
The cost of childhood in the digital world
5 mins

In today's digital age, the rise of social media use has brought about a fundamental shift in how individuals perceive and interact with the world around them. From connecting with friends and family to sharing personal experiences and interests, platforms such as Instagram and TikTok have become integral parts of daily life for millions worldwide. 

However, through the curated feeds and perfectly filtered snapshots lie a darker reality and fundamental safeguarding concerns when it comes to children online, as well as the lack of legal protection when it comes to child influencers. 

In the unregulated world of child influencers, a striking reality unfolds: minors play a pivotal role in enhancing their family's online footprint and financial stability, yet they lack any legal entitlement to compensation for their contributions. Take Vanessa's story, for instance; she grew up immersed in her family's influencer ventures, yet never saw a dime for her efforts. It's clear as day: legislative protections for children influencers are crucial. 

Luckily, some US states are starting to push for legislation to regulate this through introducing legal protections to the earnings of child influencers - but there is still a very long road ahead of us and more countries around the world need to implement legislations as well safeguarding procedures to protect children in the digital world. 

And it’s not just about legislation around the earnings of child influencers that they need to be protected from. Child influencer accounts can quickly enter a very disturbing territory and space dominated by adult men. Shockingly, as revealed by a recent investigation by The New York Times, many of these men openly admit on other platforms to being sexually attracted to children. In the study, they found that some accounts with more than 100,000 followers had a male audience of over 75 percent, and a few of them even reached over 90 percent. Meta has had a bad reputation regarding child protections on its platforms, and even though they're supposedly trying to build an automated system for preventing likely paedophiles from subscribing to parent-run accounts, this proved to be unreliable and easily evaded by creating a new account. 

This dilemma has led to a surge in parents advocating for privacy over "sharenting," signalling a shift towards safeguarding their children's digital privacy by not posting their children’s faces online, and some even going as far as not even letting friends and family take photos of their children if they are planning to post them to their own social media accounts.

In addition to this, there is a much darker reality to consider when posting photos or videos of children online…. With the emergence of AI, there's a heightened concern about the potential manipulation of innocent photos into deepfakes or their misuse in identity fraud. 

Distressingly, children have also become targets of alarming extortion schemes through social media where another child’s identity is falsely used to extort other children. The number of sextortion cases targeting young people “has exploded in the past couple of years,” with teen boys being specific targets, said Lauren Coffren, executive director of the Exploited Children Division at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). ‘Catfishing’ is nothing new, it has been a big problem around social media ever since the beginning. However, it is a topic that’s not spoken about enough, especially when it comes to children. It’s imperative that parents, children, and anyone who works with children, are educated around these threats early on to avoid cases such as sexting extortions, and false online presences.  

At KI, one of our Super 6 is safeguarding. Which is one of the many reasons why this remains a big topic of conversation and debate in the office. The safety and well being of the children we create for, is fundamental to who and what we do. We commit to doing all we can to protect children and to root out exploitation. We actively invest in our team to broaden their expertise as well as identify any gaps or concerns in the family market where we could and should be doing more. Through initiatives such as The BLT (Breakfast Learning Time), Internal Knowledge Sharing, and a Curated Curriculum that includes Super 6 and safeguarding, child development, strategic practices and more, we make sure that our team is always learning and innovating. 

As a person working in social media, I personally find this topic very distressing. In an ideal world, the innocent act of a parent sharing snippets of their daily life, which naturally includes their children, should not be something negative. However, the reality is, it is. Despite the generally innocent intentions, the lack of consent from children to have their formative years publicised and written into their digital identities forever is a big concern. Moreover, with the rising online threats there is a great urgency to make safeguarding children a much bigger topic of discussion as well as educating parents and children with the risks involved. 

We need to implement more laws and protections. Similar to how child actors have legal protections around their career, there is no reason why child influencers shouldn’t have the same. UK MP’s have started to talk about this issue, a report recommends that the government “urgently” addresses gaps in UK child labour and performance regulations that are leaving child influencers unprotected. New legislation should include provisions on working hours and conditions and protecting a child’s earnings. 

Although this issue has become a topic of discussion and there is positive movement,  legislation is still to be implemented, and when it is a matter of safeguarding children, there should be more urgency around it. Childhood is priceless, and it should not be ‘sold’ for online content and we need to do more to ensure all children are safeguarded. 

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