Child stars on social media have little protection. Illinois is trying to fix that

Child stars on social media have little protection. Illinois is trying to fix that


CHICAGO (AP) — Shreya Nallamothu, 13, was cooped up at home three years ago during the pandemic lockdown and was scrolling through social media when she noticed a pattern: Kids even younger than her were the stars — dancing, crackling one-liners and talking about it. generally cute.

“It seemed harmless to me at first,” Nallamothu said.

But as she saw more and more posts of children peddling products or their accidents going viral, she began to wonder: Who’s watching them?

“I realized that there can be a lot of exploitation in the world of ‘kidfluencing,'” Nallamothu said, referring to monetizing social media content that features children. “And I realized there was absolutely no legislation to protect them.”

Illinois legislators are trying to change that by making their state what they say will be the first in the country to offer protections for child influencers on social media. Nallamothu, now 15, raised her concerns with Senator David Koehler of Peoria, Illinois, who then initiated the legislation.

The Illinois bill would entitle child influencers under the age of 16 to receive a percentage of earnings based on how often they appear on video blogs or online content that generates at least 10 cents per view. To be eligible, the content must be created in Illinois and children must appear in at least 30% of the content within a 30-day period.

Video bloggers – or vloggers – would be responsible for keeping track of children’s performances and must put gross earnings for the child into a trust account before they turn 18, or the child could sue.

The bill was passed unanimously by the Senate in March and will be considered by the House this week. If approved, the bill will go back to the Senate for a final vote before making its way to Governor JB Pritzker, who said he plans to sign it into law in the coming months.

Family-style vlogs can show kids from birth and narrate milestones and family events — the wholesome clips Nallamothu initially flipped through.

But experts say that the commercialized “ part time The industry, which can bring content creators tens of thousands of dollars per brand deal, is underregulated and can actually do damage.

“As we see influencers and content creators increasingly becoming a viable career path for young people, we should remember that this is one place where the law has not caught up with practice,” said Jessica Maddox, a professor at the University of Alabama who studies social media platforms.

She added that child influencers “desperately need the same protections afforded to other child workers and entertainers.”

The Illinois bill is largely modeled after California’s 1939 Jackie Coogan bill, named after the silent-film-era child actor who sued his parents for squandering his earnings. Coogan laws now exist in several states and require parents to set aside a portion of child performer earnings for when they are adults.

Other states have tried unsuccessfully to pass laws to combat possible exploitation of children on social media. A 2018 California child labor bill included a social media advertising provision that was removed by the time it was passed, and Washington’s 2023 bill stuck in committee.

Across the Atlantic, France passed a law in 2020 giving child influencers under the age of 16 the right to a share of their earnings, as well as “the right to forget,” meaning video platforms can post the child’s images on withdraw the minor’s request. Parental consent is not required.

Illinois’ own bill underwent several amendments during its legislative session that diluted its reach, including removing a provision that allows child influencers to request removal of content once they reach age 18, and requiring family vloggers to register their channels .

Still, Chicago-based Tyler Diers, executive director of technology trade association Technet, who opposed the bill before the amendments but is now neutral, said that when one state legislature takes up an issue, others tend to follow. and often perfect what the first state did.”

Nallamothu stressed that the law in Illinois doesn’t target “parents posting their kids on Facebook to their closest family and friends,” or even a funny clip that went viral.

“This is for families who make their living vlogging kids and families,” she said.

Many social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram and TikTok, do not allow children to have accounts until they are at least 13 years old. But that didn’t stop them from appearing on social media. And the internet is full of examples of children being exposed for financial gain – and the damage it has done as a result.

In 2019, an Arizona mother was charged with torturing her seven adopted children for sub-par performances in their popular YouTube series Fantastic Adventures; a couple from Maryland who posted “Prank” videos of themselves yelling at their children and breaking their toys lost custody and were sentenced to five years of probation for child neglect.

Another YouTube couple filmed every step of their family’s process adoption of a young child from China with autismto eventually place him in a new home.

Chris McCarty, an 18-year-old student who founded Quit Clicking Kids, an advocacy organization focused on protecting minors who make money online, and who was the force behind the Washington bill, noted that “this problem is not going to go away “.

“Once these children reach adulthood, the true magnitude of the damage done by income-generating family channels will be realized,” McCarty said. said at a hearing for Washington’s bill in February.

TikToker Bobbi Althoff is the mother of two little girls whom she lovingly calls “Richard” and “Concrete” to her 3.7 million followers. Althoff used to share her eldest daughter’s face and real name online, but stopped after people made rude comments about her.

“I kept thinking about my daughter growing up reading these things, and it really upset me because I hate reading stuff like that about myself,” she said.

When she shared her decision on Instagram, she lost thousands of followers and received backlash.

“A lot of people were supportive of me, but there were definitely a lot of people who were really weird about it,” said Althoff, describing how some viewers seemed to feel “they had a relationship with my daughter… watching her grow.”

While TikTok celebrity toddlers aren’t yet old enough to think about their experiences, reality TV stars for kids from the past decade can offer a similar insight into what it feels like to be on the other side of the camera .

Ohio’s Jason Welage enjoyed his time as a preteen on TruTV’s 2015 reality show Kart Life, which followed families in the world of kart racing. Now 20, Welage says some of the less pleasant aspects have followed him into adulthood.

“If you google the show, the first clip that pops up on YouTube is me coming off the track and crying,” he said. “I still hear about it to this day.”

His parents funneled the $10,000 he earned on the show back into his races, which can cost families up to $150,000 a year, according to his mother, Meghan, who, like her son, supports Illinois child influencer legislation and hopes that similar laws will be implemented in other states or even federally.

For kids appearing on social media or TV, “it’s definitely work for them,” she said. Her son “wanted to go play, but instead he had to sit on a stool in our RV and do interviews.”

“There has to be something to compensate the child for what they’re going through or what they have to do,” she said.


AP Staff Writer Elaine Ganley in Paris contributed to this report.


Savage serves on the Corps for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a non-profit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercover issues.