Money, fame but no safety net in the murky kid influencer market

Gunit Kaur’s mother is proud that her daughter filmed her last single shot reel video. The video was a “collaboration” with a beauty brand called Almost India. Gunit applies the face wash on her cheeks and elaborates on the product details and manages to get what the advertiser wants. When she grows up, Gunit wants to be an “influencer” and she can’t wait for her followers to reach 25,000 on Instagram, which will give her the impetus to open a YouTube channel where she reviews beauty products.

Gunit, based in Mumbai, is only nine years old at present and studies in class III. She is one of the thousands of “child artists” or child influencers and digital content creators in India who are increasingly becoming part of the entertainment industry. It’s not just viral videos on social media, these kids are appearing in product videos, lip-synching with popular (and usually adult) trending reels and role-playing characters, all at the name of parents allowing their children to do “what they really enjoy”.

Gunit’s mother, Jasmeet, who runs her account, admits she has little knowledge of Instagram or how the algorithm works. However, on-screen parental controls are a must to comply with social media policy. However, Gunit really does it all.

“I’m very supportive of her talent and I believe it’s also an exercise in freedom. Look at all the positivity she gets around her videos,” Jasmeet says, adding, “As long as she balances her studies well, we don’t stop it.

child’s play business

But it’s not just child’s play. According to a report by The footprint.

Businesses report significantly better return on investment (ROI) through influencer marketing compared to other forms of promotional strategies such as traditional advertising.

While these underage influencers believe that by sharing the details of their daily lives and vulnerabilities with their followers they create meaningful content and connection, it also creates another pool for advertisers to target and entice these children to consume. everything they receive online.

“For a long time we didn’t accept payments for reels, but now that Gunit is doing better and receiving offers to collaborate, we are thinking of accepting payments,” says Gunit’s mother.

Money can be made from clicks and views, and kids are the best at generating views. While children under 13 aren’t allowed by law to have their own account, there’s a lot going on behind the parents’ costume controlling their accounts.

As children continue to perform for fame, unboxing makeup, clothing, toys, food, etc., for parents becomes another source of income. But what happens to the money?

Experts have argued that there is often mismanagement of money by parents. Following similar concerns about privacy and the exploitation of child labor in any form, France recently published the “draft law on the exploitation of the image of children on all online platforms “, which states that if the children are under 16, all the money they earn will be protected. It also ensures that social media platforms are required to remove content at the request of the child.

The age of innocence

It’s not just the financial aspect and borderline child labor that are of concern in this growing industry of underage influencers. Fame and constant street lighting at such a young age can have detrimental effects on the development of children, in particular, and can lead to emotional and personality difficulties in the later stages of their lives.

A majority of psychologists believe that adults whose formative years have been shared online may never emerge from the experience of a so-called “invisible audience”.

“Children, who grow up with their needs met by fame from an invisible group of people, often find it difficult to express their emotions as they grow up,” says Rashi Juneja, a Delhi-based psychotherapist and visiting professor at Amity University. . , Noida.

Being exposed to fame at such an early age can make children susceptible to damaging emotional fluctuations that can lead to the early onset of “adulthood.” This is because constant exposure to adult content or lifestyles leads to the secretion of certain hormones in children’s bodies long before the right time, Rashi points out. “How do you expect them to handle the pressure of creating content once the money has been made for it?” she adds.

Gunit says her tuition teacher is very supportive and often gives her extra hours so she can get home and find time to make her videos. “A lot of my teacher’s friends are influencers and they guide me in the process of doing better and I’m very grateful to them,” says the aspiring content creator.

“Children aren’t supposed to ‘play’ for money or compete with digital creators who have carved out full-time professions for themselves. It hinders their growth in ways that parents don’t understand. It should be growing concern that kids are hitting puberty at such a young age and it’s all thanks to social media,” says Rashi.

Furthermore, being driven by fleeting fame, children also fail to understand concepts such as consent or the nuanced complexities and possible dangers of unfettered internet use, making them highly vulnerable to abuse. Children, however, can be “conditioned to know that when the phone is off, they have to behave in a certain way.”

What about children’s rights?

While children working on film sets are generally covered by various child protection and labor laws, children on social media currently have no real legal safety net. With virtually no laws regulating the fledgling industry, child internet stars are at heightened risk of economic, sexual or labor exploitation.

With the increase in uncensored use of social media and digital marketing, children are also vulnerable to online fraud and aggressive marketing techniques.

In 2020, the Supreme Court requested the central government’s response to a petition calling for an appropriate legal framework to regulate minors’ access to social media platforms.

“There is no law in India to regulate minors’ access to social media. Since minors are subject to exploitation and harassment for not being able to understand the consequences of their actions on social media platforms, they must be protected by law,” said the petition, which has was filed in July at the beginning of this year.

In 2021, a study commissioned by the National Commission for the Protection of Children’s Rights (NCPCR) revealed that 37.8% of children aged 10 have a Facebook account while 24.3% have an Instagram account.

This is in breach of standards set by social media platforms, the top child rights body has found.

While the world of glitz and glamor has always appealed to everyone—from adults to children—children’s constant exposure to social media can lead to further “identity fracturing,” children feeling increasingly disjointed when it comes to figuring out who they really are as they get older.

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