As the Royal College of Psychiatrists urges the Government to afford child YouTube stars the same protection as child actors, Dr Emma Nottingham, Senior Lecturer in Law and Co-Director of the University of Winchester's Centre for Information Rights, outlines the Centre's research which shows that children who appear on social media need greater protection 1.
The term 'Generation Tagged' refers to the generation of children who have grown up in the age of social media and where being tagged online is a societal norm. Whereas the term 'Digital Natives' refers to those who have grown up around technology, and is generally associated with those born during the 1980s, 'Generation Tagged' refers specifically to those children who have only known a world in which social media exists. Most Millennials would be members of 'Generation Tagged'.
The trend of the YouTube 'Kidfluencer' and the rise in family vlogging has led to intimate parts of children's daily lives being broadcast for the world to see. Often the parents will be the instigators, although older children are also capable of creating their own YouTube channel. With millions of viewers watching each day, children who appear on YouTube frequently and consistently end up becoming mini celebrities in their own right. Their parents can also benefit from this celebrity status as their own social media following will likely increase. They can earn money through advertising and can be provided with free products to help boost sales.
YouTube 'Kidfluencers' are at risk of emotional harm, including emotional harm that could develop in the future as the long-term implications and consequences upon on a child's mental health are yet to be fully realised. Once the current YouTube stars become adults, the long-term risks and benefits will be easier to determine.
In a vlog by The Shaytards, a well-known YouTube family based in the USA, the nine-year-old daughter repeatedly pleads: "Dad! Cut that part out!" when she tells her dad about a boy she has a crush on 2. The vlog shows scenes of the child running away from her dad, hiding under the bed whilst he laughs in the background and tries to convince her that she will find it funny in 10 years time. Her father follows her with the camera and can be heard saying: "This is good footage". (Shaytards, "Dad! Cut that part out!" 3 April 2014.)
The Toyfreaks YouTube channel, in which father Greg Chism capitalised on filming his daughters in various disturbing situations, had his YouTube channel shut down. However, this was only after negative media attention drew attention to what was happening.
Children who appear on YouTube, especially those who do so at the request of their parents, are at risk of being manipulated and exploited in order to ensure continued followers and financial gain. The Centre of Information Rights have expressed concerns about the lack of protection for children in 'YouTube families' which contrasts with the regulation provided for child actors and performers.
The UK Government declined the opportunity to address problems for children in YouTube families when updating their licensing legislation relating to child performance and activities. It stated: 'Note that this does not extend to user generated content, eg where young people or a family record themselves and share it on a website or social media' (Department for Education, 2015).
In my latest research, I state that:
"YouTube families are entirely unregulated. Therefore, children who are part of a YouTube family may have endure long hours of filming everyday. The lack of regulation also means that there is no limit on the amount of footage uploaded. In contrast to child actors and child performers, who have to have a license and have limits to the amount of hours they can work, children who appear in YouTube family vlogs do not benefit from any legal protection." (Emma Nottingham, '"Dad! Cut that Part Out!" Children's Rights to Privacy in the Age of 'Generation Tagged': Sharenting, Digital Kidnapping and the Child Micro-Celebrity' International Handbook of Children's Rights, Routledge, due to be published in November 2019).
In 2017, the Centre of Information Rights called for online intermediaries to have a duty of care to consider young children's privacy and best interests. The duty of care should increase in line with the extent to which the social media service promotes, controls and profits from the publication of images or videos of young children, for instance in the case of YouTube families 3.
However, the current proposals for introducing a statuary duty of care on social media providers indicate that children who appear on YouTube will slip through the net yet again as more attention is being given to the issues relating to children using social on social media rather than appearing on it.
Similar concerns have been raised this week by the Royal College of Psychiatrists who are also urging the Government to develop new laws to protect kidfluencers from exploitation.
The University of Winchester's Centre for Information Rights has launched a new study which will see researchers interview older children who were involved in reality TV programmes at a young age and the parents/guardians of those children.
For more information email: Emma.Nottingham@winchester.ac.uk or click here.
1 Marion Oswald, Helen James [Ryan] and Emma Nottingham (2016) 'The not-so-secret life of five- year-olds: legal and ethical issues relating to disclosure of information and the depiction of children on broadcast and social media' Journal of Media Law 8(2). Click here to read online.
2 Oswald et al., 'Have 'Generation Tagged' Lost Their Privacy? A report on the consultation workshop to discuss the legislative, regulatory and ethical framework surrounding the depiction of young children on digital, online and broadcast media' 9 August 2017. Click here to read online.
3 For further detail see Marion Oswald, Helen James [Ryan] and Emma Nottingham (2016) 'The not-so-secret life of five- year-olds: legal and ethical issues relating to disclosure of information and the depiction of children on broadcast and social media' Journal of Media Law 8(2). Click here to read online.
Oswald et al., 'Have 'Generation Tagged' Lost Their Privacy? A report on the consultation workshop to discuss the legislative, regulatory and ethical framework surrounding the depiction of young children on digital, online and broadcast media' 9 August 2017. Click here to read online.
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