(WATCH) Kid Influencers

There’s a new breed of celebrity in the social media age: kid influencers. They — and their parents — are making millions off TikTok, YouTube and others. That’s raising new questions about exploitation and what constitutes child labor. Lisa Fletcher reports on growing pressure to make sure the youngest have protections and the pushback coming from companies making money off kids.

The following is a transcript of a report from “Full Measure with Sharyl Attkisson.” Watch the video by clicking the link at the end of the page.

The Arandas, a family of eight living in Maryland, are new to making money off of social media. Mom, Heather, and dad, Jimmy, are paid by toy companies to have their kids promote products in videos where clicks equal dollars.

Heather Aranda: We create things that are fun. We do unboxings, we get to go places. We get to do everything that the kids see on commercials and they want to do.

Lisa: When somebody says they’re a social media influencer, what does that mean?

Leo Aranda: I feel like it means you’re famous.

Korina Aranda: Yeah. 

Lisa: And you guys want to be famous?

Leo Aranda: Mm-hmm.

The Arandas admit that in their first year trying to earn a living through Instagram, they’re just scratching the surface of fame and fortune.

Heather Aranda: We’ve made, we’ll say, around maybe total, realistically, possibly $10,000, which is pretty good.

Jimmy Aranda: Yeah. For one year.

Heather Aranda: We’re not complaining. But obviously not enough to survive, just to help you continue to move forward and believe in the dream.

Others are living that so-called dream. Siblings “Diana and Roma” have passed 100 billion views on YouTube since 2015 and reportedly rake in about $70 million a year in ad money. “Come Play With Me,” a series of role-playing videos, has drawn as much as $10.5 million a year. And videos from nine-year-old influencer “A for Adley” earned about $3 million last year.

They’re not the only ones cashing in; so are the social media platforms and companies that hire influencers to promote products. The arrangement is triggering new debates over exploitation, child labor, and whether to regulate it.

Before there were child influencers, there were child actors. Jackie Coogan, seen here in the 1921 movie “The Kid,” was among the first. When he turned 23, he famously sued his parents for squandering his millions. He never got much of the money, but his story prompted “Coogan Laws” in California and at least nine other states. They require parents to save child actors a portion of earnings in a trust account.

New age, new media. And new versions of Coogan Laws are now being proposed in at least eight states. Illinois was the first to vote one into law.

State Senator Clarence Lam is sponsoring a bill in Maryland.

Maryland State Senator Clarence Lam: I think it is important to protect our children, right? And we know that, unfortunately, there are adults, and sometimes parents, that exploit their children or don’t necessarily have their children’s best interests in mind.

The bill would require parents to set aside 10 cents per view from money-earning content starring their children — the cash held in a trust until the children are adults.

Maryland State Senator Clarence Lam: Unfortunately, some of these children look like they’re being utilized as actors or as props as part of these videos.

There is a real question: whether paying children actually protects them. If kids mean clicks, and clicks mean money, it may feed the potential for abuse.

Machelle Hackney, an Arizona mother, was arrested and charged with child abuse in 2019 for allegedly torturing her seven adopted children for subpar performances on their YouTube series “Fantastic Adventures,” which had been taken down but reportedly made up to $142,000 a month. Hackney died before the case went to trial.

A Maryland couple who posted prank videos of themselves screaming at their children and breaking their toys on the “DaddyOFive” YouTube channel lost custody of their kids and were convicted of child neglect.

There’s more than money at stake for these so-called kidfluencers. Some experts say they run the risk of having every aspect of their young lives exploited.

That issue of a darker side of child exploitation was recently revealed. The Wall Street Journal reported that the Meta safety staff warned last year that new paid subscription tools on Facebook and Instagram were being misused by adults seeking to profit from exploiting their own children.

Two teams found that hundreds of what the company calls “parent-managed minor accounts” were using the subscription feature to sell exclusive content, often featuring young girls in bikinis and leotards.

Adding to the complexity are internet safety groups weighing in on the debate. It turns out they’re sometimes funded by the very industry that’s trying to avoid restrictions on what kids can do online.

The Family Online Safety Institute, or FOSI, says laws should create safer spaces for kids, not force them offline. They say being online “can increase young people’s sense of belonging, an important part of adolescent development and wellbeing.” It advocates self-regulation for social media companies.

FOSI is often quoted in mainstream media and describes itself as a nonpartisan nonprofit, but it’s actually funded by internet and toy companies making the most off kids, including Facebook, now Meta, which owns Instagram and Snapchat, TikTok, Google, which owns YouTube, and Mattel.

Critics say self-regulation hasn’t worked so far.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn: Children are not your priority. Children are your product.

In late January, Senator Marsha Blackburn leaned into the CEOs of social media’s largest companies as part of a full Senate Judiciary Committee hearing called to investigate child exploitation.

And Republican Josh Hawley leaned into Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg, who faced the brunt of the questions at the hearing.

Sen. Josh Hawley: There’s families of victims here today. Have you apologized to them? Would you like to do so now? They’re here; you’re on national television. Would you like now to apologize to the victims who have been harmed by your product?

Mark Zuckerberg: I’m sorry

But to date, eight hearings before Congress and no law to change or restrict the impact social media has on children. 

Back at the Arandas in Maryland, they say money they’ve earned as influencers pays bills and allows family outings, claiming their online adventures are for fun. And all involved have their voice.

Jimmy Aranda: We obviously let them know ahead of, “Hey, somebody has reached out. What do you guys think of this place?” And obviously, that, while we’ll have fun, there’ll be a little time or whatever where we record, and then you put this together, and it looks like it’s something that’s been directed, but it wasn’t.

Sharyl (on-camera): You reported on one of the safety groups that’s actually getting funding from the social media companies. There are others, and one of them at least seems to have gotten some good results. 

Lisa: Yeah. Well, just this month a federal judge in Ohio stopped a state law from being implemented that would have required parents to give their consent before a child had a social media platform. That judge actually agreed with a group that’s called NetChoice, and they advocated that the law violated a minor’s right to free speech. So NetChoice’s members include TikTok, X, YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram.

Sharyl: That’s a big refrain. They’re arguing that children have rights separate from their parents to do this.

Watch video here.

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1 thought on “(WATCH) Kid Influencers”

  1. Sharyl and Lisa Fletcher :

    Sharyl opines ( last sentence ) :

    “That’s a big refrain. They’re arguing that children
    have rights separate from their parents to do this.”

    Where were you two, when the
    American Communist Lawyers Union
    had successfully garnered the civil
    right of privacy for students’ school
    lockers, preventing parents and
    teachers from securing the safety of
    children FROM PARENTAL authority
    —or when Nebraska’s unicameral had
    successfully (1973) protected children
    from PARENTAL Knowledge of their
    seeking medical treatment for any
    cause ?

    America today, is a cultural sewer of
    drugs, savage drumbeats, porn, ill
    health, and dumb as a box of bent nails
    C O N S E R V A T I V E S, who have
    compromised with Libertine Communist
    Liberals LEFTWARD for 60 years
    —effecting the above bad outcomes.

    Blame Radical Feminism, which Aristotle
    had warned would always end in military

    ”The past informs the present to predict the future.” -My Muse


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