The popularity of child influencers has grown rapidly in recent years with Instagram awash with teenage influencers hawking fast fashion and makeup to their legions of followers. But what’s their status ? Are they workers? It’s a well trodden cliche to pronounce that the law is struggling to keep up with technology but then cliches are usually cliches for a reason, because they’re true. And nowhere is this more true than in the fast changing world of social media influencing. In 2019 brands spent $8 billion on influencers, many of whom are yet to reach the age of eighteen, the age at which, in most Western countries, an employee ceases to be considered a minor for the purposes of labour laws. Yet, on the internet, it can still very much feel like the wild west when it comes to the regulation of social media advertising. Now France has sought to protect its young social media stars and this week has introduced legislation to regulate both the hours that under 16s can work online and also what happens to their earnings.
Essentially, the new law, which was passed unanimously on Tuesday, gives the same protections as those given to child models and actors in France, with their earnings placed in a bank account until they turn 16. An important aspect of the bill is that it also enshrines the right to be forgotten, meaning that platforms will be obliged to take down content on the child’s request
The does not affect all children who appear on social media, but instead targets those who spend significant amounts of time working online and whose work generates an income. Another notable aspect is that brands must seek approval from local authorities before employing child influencers, thus increasing transparency across the board.
In the US, most attempts to put any sort of restrictions on the influencer industry have failed. The Coogan Law, which requires 15 percent of a child actor’s earnings to be deposited in a blocked trust account, is considered the key mechanism for protecting child actors from exploitation. The Law was introduced in 1939 when child actor Jackie Coogan sued his parents for squandering the money that he had made. Coogan’s Law does not cover child influencers and no comparable regulation has been introduced to protect them, leaving child stars vulnerable to exploitation.
Bruno Studer, the lawmaker who introduced the new legislation in France, said he hopes his country will be a leader in protecting the rights of children who are making money online.
“Children’s rights must be preserved and protected, including on the internet, which must not be a lawless area,” he said.