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ECKER: Stop exploitation of child social media influencers

Pennsylvania’s Child Labor Law exists to protect children, their labor, and their earnings from being exploited and I believe that the protections of our Child Labor Law should apply to child influencers on social media.

I am introducing legislation to update our Child Labor Laws to do just that.

Americans are well accustomed to childhood celebrities, and we are equally aware of the many stories of children whose families have become broken and their futures made difficult because the people who should have been looking out for them were exploiting them.

From River Phoenix to Amanda Bynes and Macauly Culkin, the career and life burnout of childhood celebrities is an all-too-familiar tale in our country.

The presence of children making content on social media and earning income from product endorsements, advertisements, and merchandising has become equally ubiquitous in our society.

From social media channels like Vlad and Niki to Ryan’s World, children on YouTube and other social media channels have millions of subscribers and are making millions of dollars. In fact, for Vlad and Niki, their family operates 21 YouTube channels in 18 different languages and their yearly earnings top $64 million.

While I am normally one who believes that government should stay out of private enterprise, I also firmly believe that government does have a role to play in protecting children, especially when their labor may be exploited, their earnings taken, and their futures put into jeopardy.

As a member of the Pennsylvania General Assembly who is active on social media, and the father of young children, I know there is a fine line between inclusion and exploitation.

While children at home may enjoy watching a 15-minute YouTube video with their favorite child influencer, what we do not know is how long those videos took produce, under what conditions they were made, and whether or not the children themselves are willing participants in the activity.

If mainstream media creation is any clue, it often takes several takes to get one portion of a show or movie correct, hours of rehearsal, and then editing and reshoots.

Highly produced content creation videos and influencer material are likely not less rigorous.

On top of that, many of these creators then branch out into other ways to make money with their millions of subscribers. From product endorsements to merchandising, the work of children is being used to make money for not only themselves, but countless other individuals.

Without an understanding of the consequences, children are having their name, image, and likeness endorse products and sell merchandise to an extent they may never be aware.

That is why I am introducing legislation to put guardrails on working conditions and conduct of child influencers and content creators.

Among other things, when introduced my legislation will protect children who earn money as influencers and content-makers, or whose likeness, name or photograph is substantially featured in a parent or guardian’s content. These protections include requiring that parents set aside a portion of the gross earnings earned from such content.

Similar legislation has been introduced and/or enacted in other states as lawmakers across the country have seen the need to step in and ensure children who earn money as influencers are not taken advantage of.

The bottom line here is that children should not be exploited. And both their childhoods and their work should be protected from unscrupulous individuals who want to take advantage of their celebrity and subject them to onerous working conditions while not being sound stewards of their earnings.

It is my hope that legislation I will soon introduce to protect child influencers and content creators with Pennsylvania’s Child Labor Law will receive wide bipartisan support and fair consideration in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

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