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MPs Are Shocked By Social Media Influencer Parents "Exploiting" Their Children

3 min read

Children featured on popular social media accounts in the UK are being pressured to work long hours with no legal employment rights or protection for the financial benefit of their parents, “shocked” MPs have heard.

During an evidence session of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee on Tuesday, MPs heard details of children taking in “erotic” postures on accounts run by their parents in an effort to chase "clout" – an umbrella term for having a large and engaged following on social media. 

Social media accounts considered to have significant influence over their followers can command thousands of pounds for featuring or mentioning brands in their posts. 

They were also told about one parent in the US who offered social media followers the opportunity to buy exclusive images of her newborn child, a practice committee chair Julian Knight described as “horrendous”.

“I can only presume from the outside that that individual is deeply damaged,” Knight said.

“How on earth do you legislate for this sort of damage that’s been done in society over a period of time?”, he added.                             

The issue of children “performing” to create popular social media posts on accounts run by either their parents or themselves is being examined as part of a wider DCMS committee inquiry into "influencer" culture.

The rise of “mummy” and “daddy bloggers”, influencers who platform their children online, often for commercial gain, has raised legal and ethical questions around consent and labour rights, which MPs and policy makers are only now trying to catch up on.

Social media content involving children varies, with some popular bloggers filming and uploading almost every day of their children’s lives on YouTube.

Other parent influencers have been known to amass thousands of views and subsequent commercial benefits through uploading videos of themselves and their young children eating – a concept known as “Mukbang”.

Conservative MP Steve Brine described the practice as a “sickness”, while expert witness Dr Catalina Goanta labelled it “harmful”.

“There are some children who have very big media followings, and it is effectively their full-time jobs,” Ed Magee, Chair of the National Network for Children in Employment and Entertainment, told the committee.

“There may be pressure put on children to take part in that activity, particularly when there is a financial element that goes along with it,” he added.

“That’s the bit that we’re concerned about because that would be regulated as part of child employment if they were in TV, whereas it’s not for self-generated content.”

Currently there is no legislation in place to govern how long a child can perform or work for themselves or their parents on social media.

In the UK parents also aren’t under any legal obligation to set aside for their children any profits accrued from content in which they feature or star.

“We literally have no protections in place do we, here in this country for kids who are in this environment?” Knight asked the committee’s witness panel.  

“I think government can legislate to ensure that children are protected and that there are safeguards that are similar to what child entertainment licenses require, particularly when it becomes a certain level,” Magee suggested.  

The DCMS committee is due to produce a report outlining the findings of its inquiry into influencer culture, including the role of children in the industry, after concluding its investigation.

The report will include recommendations to governement, which the committee are still determining as evidence sessions continue. 

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