British legislators are calling for controls to protect child influencers from exploitation, and to create a code of conduct for deals between influencers and brands or talent agencies.
A report from the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee describes concerns that children are being used by parents and family members as a source of revenue, affecting their privacy and creating security risks.
The committee is calling for new legislation that would include provisions on working hours and conditions, mandate the protection of the child’s earnings, ensure a right to erasure and bring the child’s working arrangements under the oversight of local authorities.
“The rise of influencer culture online has brought significant new opportunities for those working in the creative industries and a boost to the UK economy. However, as is so often the case where social media is involved, if you dig below the shiny surface of what you see on screen you will discover an altogether murkier world where both the influencers and their followers are at risk of exploitation and harm online,” says DCMS Committee chair Julian Knight.
“Child viewers, who are still developing digital literacy, are in particular danger in an environment where not everything is always as it seems, while there is a woeful lack of protection for young influencers who often spend long hours producing financially lucrative content at the direction of others.”
The report calls on the government to “urgently” address the gap in UK child labor and performance regulation that, it says, is leaving child influencers without protection. It also proposes an investigation into pay standards and practice in the influencer marketplace, saying that influencers lack employment protections and that social media platforms should be rewarding influencers better for their work in attracting users.
Meanwhile, it says, the level of compliance with UK advertising regulations is unacceptably low. In 2020, a monitoring exercise by the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) found that only 35 per cent of 24,000 marketing posts on the Instagram accounts of 122 UK-based influencers were clearly labelled as adverts.
Both the ASA and the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) should be given more powers to enforce the law, the report concludes.
“The explosion in influencer activity has left the authorities playing catch-up and exposed the impotence of advertising rules and employment protections designed for a time before social media was the all-encompassing behemoth it has become today,” says Knight.
“This report has held a mirror up to the problems which beset the industry, where for too long it has been a case of lights, camera, inaction. It is now up to the Government to reshape the rules to keep pace with the changing digital landscape and ensure proper protections for all.”