Earlier this month, US YouTube stars Cole and Savannah LaBrant pulled an April Fool’s prank on their six-year-old—filmed her distress, then posted the video online.

The vlogger couple received backlash, and the controversy focused public and legal attention on the complex, increasingly influential industry of child influencers.

YouTube’s top-earning channel is Ryan ToysReview, hosted by the eponymous seven-year-old. By December 2018, Ryan’s enthusiastic toy explorations grossed over $22 million and 18 million subscribers.

Parents of child influencers insist they are the ones working: their children play—they merely film them. However, when corporate agreements are signed, children cannot opt out; they must perform as required.

Whereas parents can “sign up” to publicising their “whole lives,” as Savannah LaBrant told the Guardian, critics argue children under a certain age cannot reasonably consent to being broadcast.

There are also extreme cases: in March, an Arizona woman was charged with beating, starving, and molesting her six adopted children, whom she’d withdrawn from school and forced to participate in videos for her YouTube channel, Fantastic Adventures.

Money is equally an issue. Young Ryan’s antics, for instance, attracted partnerships and licensing agreements with Bonkers Toys and pocket.watch.

How should we regulate who, of parent or child, is entitled to earnings—and when?

How might laws mitigate the potential for abuse and exploitation of children garnering huge social media followings?

 

Credit for this article's header image goes to Getty.