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A new campaign wants to protect child influencers from being exploited by their parents

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

TikTok, YouTube and Instagram are full of kids' videos, but they're not just cute home videos. Many are of mega-viral kids - social media stars. Some have millions of followers, and they review things like toys or movies, sometimes earning a lot of money. But unlike child actors, there are no real protections for these child influencers. Chris McCarty is trying to change that. They are the founder of Quit Clicking Kids. They got interested in trying to protect kid influencers after they learned about a mom who had gained a huge following sharing family videos on social media, especially about one of her kids who had behavioral issues.

CHRIS MCCARTY: There were a lot of videos that were sharing some pretty personal information about this kid that then ended up online and shared to a wide viewership. So there was a pretty clear, just disregard for his privacy there.

RASCOE: So once you heard about this story, you started looking into this issue?

MCCARTY: Yeah. I thought, well, social media is such a new thing. I wonder - like, she can't be the only person who's using her kids in this way to sort of generate clicks, generate interest in her account. And it turned out that she was not the only person doing it.

RASCOE: Not at all. And these kids have to be filmed a whole lot. And what are you trying to do about that?

MCCARTY: Quit Clicking Kids is primarily an advocacy organization aimed at spreading awareness of this issue, just because it is such a new industry. Largely, that advocacy is focused on legislative involvement, right? So there's House Bill 1627 in Washington state, recently Senate Bill 1782 in Illinois. And that Senate bill is currently in committee awaiting amendments - so still active, just waiting to see what amendments, if any, will be added to the bill.

RASCOE: What are you trying to do with these bills?

MCCARTY: The bills specified that for accounts that are big enough to generate sufficient monetary compensation for the account and then also accounts that consistently feature their children - what the bill says is, first, a percentage of the revenue generated from the video must be set aside for the children in escrow, so that - like, in a separate account for the child - and that once these children reach the age of majority, they can request any video featuring them as a child be deleted.

RASCOE: This is something that happened in Hollywood where you had these child actors who would make all of this money, and then their parents would spend all the money. And the kids would end up broke. And so you had regulations and laws that were put into place so that parents couldn't spend up all their kids money. Do you feel like a similar thing is happening on TikTok and YouTube and Instagram?

MCCARTY: Yeah, I would say that something similar is going on. And there's a hope that the parents do have their kids' best interests at heart and they are saving that money for their children, you know, maybe for college - maybe for whatever the children basically need once they reach 18. But there's no guarantee, right? And that's why we have laws. A lot of personal information does get shared online, and that can include anything from, you know, periods to mental and physical health issues, grades - anything and everything gets shared online. And I think there's sometimes a lapse in judgment where parents really need to be thinking about - would my kid be OK - in five years or 10 years from now, will they be OK that I shared this information about them online? Will this come back and hurt them later when they're applying to college? Will it come back and hurt them when they're applying for a job?

RASCOE: That's Chris McCarty. They are the founder of Quit Clicking Kids. Thank you so much for joining us.

MCCARTY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe
Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.