Regulating Sharenting: Protecting Child Influencers

Advocates for digital privacy rights and child labor are pressing lawmakers to regulate the kid influencer market.

In February, Ruby Franke, a well-known YouTuber with over 2.3 million subscribers, made headlines when she was found guilty of severe child abuse and given four jail terms, each lasting between one and fifteen years. The 42-year-old American mother of six from Utah entered a guilty plea to malnourishing and starving her kids while making money by posting parenting tips on social media.

Even though Franke's case was an extreme example, it brought attention to the problems of digital child labor and children's privacy in the social media age, and lawmakers are starting to enact regulations.

If you quickly read through your page, you will witness millions of parents sacrificing the privacy of their kids. A growing number of kids are posting photos of themselves online, whether they're updating the world on their life or attempting to make a name for themselves in a market expected to grow to $24 billion by the end of 2024.

In addition to TikTok fashion influencers, YouTuber vloggers, and Instagram foodies, there's an entire industry devoted to viral happy families, first-time parents, and single children who earn millions from business partnerships and marketing campaigns.

Things become murkier at that point. A contemporary family company where, similar to Franke's children, cruelty and exploitation can be hiding under the glitzy exterior. Legislators around the world are taking efforts to bring those hazy digital borders back into focus after they were left uncontrolled for such a long time.

Developing a Legal Framework for Sharenting and Child Influencers

Italy is the most recent nation to be considering enacting legislation to protect children's photographs on the internet and stop parents from using their children for financial gain.

Serena Mazzini, an Italian social media strategist and longtime opponent of the exploitation of children's images online, told the House of Representatives during the initial introduction of the proposed law that "we must prioritize the privacy imperative" in the face of the temptation to go viral. You can watch the entire Italian video here.

Mazzini, who contributed to the draft bill's drafting, believes that parents have a responsibility to defend their children's right to their own image. However, governments need to act quickly to stop this increasingly aggressive practice.

For more than ten years, social media specialists, physicians, and privacy activists have been studying the effects of sharenting and, more significantly, the kid-influencing business. Still, the legislation remained mostly silent for a very long period.

Lawmakers are paying increasing attention to the issue, whether it's because of high-profile cases that are making headlines or because adolescents are becoming the first sharented youngsters to speak out against it.


The word sharenting, a portmanteau between sharing and parenting, indicates the activity of oversharing children's images online. Experts found around 81% of children living in Western countries have "some sort of online presence" before the age of 2—92% in the US and 73% in Europe to be more precise.

France Pioneers Sharenting Laws

France is the first nation in the world to enact laws governing sharenting activities among regular parents as well as the kid-influencing sector.

The law initially established a legal framework to safeguard under-16-year-old child influencers on social media when it was approved by the Senate in June 2020. Before allowing their child to participate in these activities, parents must, among other things, obtain prior government authorization.

Three years after introducing the child influencers law, French MP Bruno Studer reintroduced a measure to ensure that children's right to privacy on social media was respected. Last February, the bill was eventually passed by a unanimous vote.

"It is usually simpler to avoid publishing anything than to have it subsequently taken down. We have to prioritize the necessity of intimacy over the allure of virality," stated Studer in a formal statement.

Teens Advocate for American Regulation on Sharenting

In August of last year, Illinois created history by being the first state in the US to offer legal defense to minors appearing in internet content that is paid for. Parents are now required by this unique rule to place a percentage of these gross revenues into a trust in their child's name.

It's interesting to note that 16-year-old Shreya Nallamothu was the one who initially proposed the bill after observing how the mechanics of internet marketing left kid influencers exposed.

Another adolescent from Washington, Chris McCarty, is promoting legislation to safeguard the privacy of newborn influencers. In an effort to raise awareness and encourage others to take action in their own states, he founded the website Quit Clicking Kids. He co-wrote a bill with state representative Emily Wicks, which is presently making its way through the House.

California, Pennsylvania, and Maryland are also planning to discuss other ideas on child work and influence.

Italy's Parliament Debates Two Sharenting Proposals

Similar to French legislation, rules against sharenting are being considered in Italy in order to preserve the privacy of minors and protect newborn influencers.

To be more specific, the Italian Parliament has received two ideas. The Five Star Movement Party (Movimento 5 Stelle) proposed the other, while Green Europe (Europa Verdi) and the Italian Left (Sinistra Italiana) signed the first.

The legislative process for these measures is only getting started, so a lot might happen along the way. Both, however, aim to control the kid influencer market by mandating that parents transfer any earnings to a child's name bank account, which the youngster may access upon turning eighteen.

The plans also include the option for individuals to request "digital oblivion" after they become 14, which echoes the GDPR's adult-only right to be forgotten.

Why Children Earn Big Online

After looking at more than 100 accounts in Portugal and Italy, Serena Mazzini discovered the obvious cause of today's baby-dominated digital landscape: content with children can receive up to three times as many interactions and views as content with adults alone.

Mazzini described the situation as "a world where children become the main content for some parents to display for obtaining as many views as possible," adding that children served a social purpose that made accounts seem more genuine.

All of this increases the number of followers and interactions, which raises the economic worth of influencer accounts. Most of them turned it into a legitimate full-time career that was quite profitable. According to a recent New York Times study, a single post by a young influencer can earn up to $3,000.

The Cost of Children's Online Success

Although the fight to completely safeguard baby influencers' internet personas—and, more generally, any child's—has only recently begun, one thing is for sure: lawmakers' attention appears to have shifted to this problem.

After all, there is no denying the rise of young influencers. It improved the global economy and provided a means of subsistence for households. For far too long, though, this business has been in risk due to a lack of legal structures.

As global legislation advances, parents need to understand the effects on their children's life when their early years are frequently televised and used as a publicity stunt.

Recall that children never requested this: their picture becoming viral for commercials, the publicity, or the cash. The teenage daughter of a well-known parent blogger said on Reddit that she is "sick" of her mother's insistence on making money off of her children's pictures without getting their consent.

AITA? My mom is an influencer. I am sick of being a part of it, I had "NO PHOTOS" hoodies printed for me and my little sister.
byu/FinallyAnonymous6 inAmItheAsshole

Children's security and privacy are also in jeopardy, and the dangers only increase as more young people become viral on social media. For instance, youngsters are 51 times more likely to become victims of identity theft online, according to a 2011 Carnegie Mellon CyLab research.

We all too frequently forget that we no longer have sole ownership of every video or image that we upload to social media. This implies that other users are free to use our content whatever they like. This brings up another serious risk that exists in the child-influencing sector: child sexual abuse.

Wren Elanor, a mother-daughter TikTok account with over 17 million followers, ignited a reaction precisely when concerned users saw that her food and bath videos were receiving more likes and saves than other movies. Some fans even discovered that Wren's writing had been altered and sexualized online.

The worries of Wren's followers were validated by a recent New York Times study (see the video below) on 5,000 mom-run Instagram profiles of American girl influencers. Although children's images and movies are very profitable, males are drawn to them sexually. Australian researchers found that over half of the content on pedophile websites seemed to have originated from social media platforms as early as 2015.


Seeking social media stardom for their underage daughters, mothers post images of them on Instagram. Although the site prohibits children under 13, parents can open so-called mom-run accounts for them, and they can live on even when the girls become teenagers. But what often starts as a parent’s effort to jump-start a child’s modeling career, or win favors from clothing brands, can quickly descend into a dark underworld dominated by adult men, many of whom openly admit on other platforms to being sexually attracted to children, an investigation by The New York Times found. Thousands of accounts examined by The Times offer disturbing insights into how social media is reshaping childhood, especially for girls, with direct parental encouragement and involvement. Some parents are the driving force behind the sale of photos, exclusive chat sessions and even the girls’ worn leotards and cheer outfits to mostly unknown followers. The most devoted customers spend thousands of dollars nurturing the underage relationships. Interacting with the men opens the door to abuse. Some flatter, bully and blackmail girls and their parents to get racier images. The Times monitored separate exchanges on Telegram, the messaging app, where men openly fantasize about sexually abusing the children they follow on Instagram and extol the platform for making the images so readily available. Meta, Instagram’s parent company, found that 500,000 child Instagram accounts had “inappropriate” interactions every day, according to an internal study in 2020 quoted in legal proceedings. In a statement to The Times, Andy Stone, a Meta spokesman, said that parents were responsible for the accounts and their content and could delete them anytime. Tap the link in our bio to read the full investigation. Video by Jennifer Valentino-DeVries, Michael Keller, Rebecca Suner, James Surdam

♬ original sound - The New York Times

With the introduction of user-friendly AI-powered technologies, it is now much simpler to turn a child's harmless image into overly sexualized deepfake video, with infant influencers being the first apparent target.

Experts caution against the psychological danger that teenagers may feel trapped in a representation they did not select after they reach the legal age of having a digital presence, which varies according on the jurisdiction (13 or 14). This could even increase their likelihood of being the victim of cyberbullies when they get older. It's not hard to predict how this issue will get worse as it becomes more well-known.

Ultimately, it's important to keep in mind that most members of Generation Alpha will eventually have to confront the things that their parents shared online when they were younger, regardless of whether those posts were intentional or the result of marketing campaigns. Is this the kind of legacy we wish to give our children?

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