The new age of social media v children’s rights to privacy online

The growing popularity of online social media platforms such as TikTok and Instagram has paved the way for a newfound presence of ‘kidfluencers’ – children thrust into the online spotlight by their parents or legal guardian, often becoming the face of a personal brand in return for sponsorship deals and paid promotions, with some pages reported to earn thousands of pounds per post.

Here, Eleanor Drury looks at how the influencer marketing industry may put children at risk, and what other jurisdictions are doing to protect them.

Last year, the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee raised concerns that children are being used by entrepreneurial parents and guardians to capitalise on the growing market, and that a lack of action to regulate this area will lead to children in the industry being exploited. Whilst the UK has previously implemented child labour legislation, this was drafted some time ago and arguably needs to be to address gaps arising from 21st century ways of life and provide regulation around two key grey areas; firstly, a child’s right to privacy on social media; namely, how content of them is shared and with whom, and secondly, whether profits are protected for the child’s future benefit.

The courts and legislators are faced with a tricky situation whereby the best interests of the child must be finely considered. There is an argument that children in this industry have a better quality of life, presented with further opportunities and greater financial freedom. Does filming and posting your child unboxing gifts, playing pranks or simply singing and dancing along with the latest trends really trigger the need for intervention? Or does the commercialisation for an online audience negate the defence of it simply being ‘play time’?

Given the overwhelming popularity of technology and social media, and the fact that of course not every child posted online is subject to a huge following of strangers on the internet, the courts will likely be keen to avoid a situation in which the floodgates are opened to excess claims and would therefore need to scrutinize a number of variables such as the age of the child, any safeguards put in place to protect the child and how much time and effort is required is of the child. It must also be recognised that the vast majority of parents and guardians post their children online out of love and parental pride.

In 2020, the French parliament adopted a new law on the commercial use of images of children under 16 years old on online platforms. The law aims to protect child influencers and provide a legal framework to prevent their exploitation online. This legislation requires parents and guardians to seek prior government authorisation to produce videos or imagery of children for online platforms where revenue exceeds certain thresholds, along with protecting any income generated by ensuring that only a percentage of this is received by parents and guardians, with the remainder being placed in trust for the child to access during adulthood.

With influencer marketing rapidly on the rise, perhaps UK legislators will decide soon to follow in the footsteps of other jurisdictions and provide a more modernised and inclusive take on pre-existing child labour law.

If you need advice on this topic, or any other matters concerning divorce or family law, please get in touch with our team at McAlister Family Law.


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