The Vulnerable Playground: Addressing the Safety of ‘Kidfluencers’ in the Digital Age

The digital landscape, while a frontier of innovation and connectivity, has morphed into a complex playground where the lines between play and commercial exploitation blur, particularly for children. In the shadows of this digital playground, the phenomenon of ‘kidfluencers’—children used as brand ambassadors on social media—has emerged as a disturbing norm, compelling us to scrutinise the safeguards for our youngest internet citizens.

 

The Unseen Burdens of Kidfluencers

The rise of ‘kidfluencers’ is marked by significant ethical and safety concerns. These young individuals often showcase their lives and promote products, navigating a realm where adult responsibilities clash with childhood innocence. This phenomenon not only raises questions about the commodification of childhood but also about the potential long-term impacts on these children’s mental health and development.

 

Behind the Screen

In the recent ABC Four Corners exposé titled “Can Parents Protect Their Kids Online in the Realm of ‘Kidfluencers’?”, a critical light is shed on the dark corners of the digital playground where child influencers operate. The documentary highlights how the charm of ‘kidfluencers’ on social platforms can often mask the predatory risks associated with online visibility. The article emphasises, “The landscape of child influencers is not just about adorable content and lucrative endorsements; it’s also a breeding ground for covert predation where children are often viewed more as marketable commodities than as vulnerable individuals” (Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 2024).

 

 

The Australian Context

In Australia, digital engagement is staggering: by age 13, nearly half of young Australians have encountered potentially harmful content like pornography, with impacts that may predispose them to risky behaviours​ (Bravehearts)​. Moreover, bullying remains a pervasive threat, with significant associations between being bullied and adverse mental health outcomes, such as depression and anxiety, particularly among girls​ (AIHW)​​ (AIHW)​.

Statistics from the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE) highlight an alarming trend, with over 33,000 reports of online child sexual exploitation in 2021 alone, underscoring the urgent need for robust protective measures​ (ACCCE)​.

 

Trauma-Informed Approach to Digital Engagement

A trauma-informed approach recognises the profound impacts that adverse online experiences can have on a child. It advocates for practices that prioritise the emotional and psychological well-being of children in all digital interactions. This involves creating environments that foster safety, where children can explore and engage without the threat of exploitation or abuse.

 

A Call for Enhanced Protection

Current regulations, such as those mandated by COPPA in the United States, provide a framework, but they fall short in the dynamic and rapidly evolving digital landscape. France’s recent legislation to protect ‘kidfluencers’ by regulating their working hours and earnings is a step in the right direction that Australian policymakers should consider emulating​ (ECU)​.

It is crucial for parents, educators, and policymakers to collaborate in fortifying the digital arena. Parental engagement is particularly vital. Despite the challenges, discussions about online safety are not as prevalent in Australian households as they should be, with only about half of the parents engaging in conversations about digital safety with their children​ (Australian Federal Police)​.

 

Conclusion

As we advance further into the digital age, the need to protect our children from its inherent risks becomes more pressing. Implementing a trauma-informed, ethical framework that addresses the needs and rights of child influencers is not just necessary—it’s imperative. We must advocate for changes that extend beyond mere content moderation, aiming for a holistic approach that includes education, stricter regulations, and a re-evaluation of the role of children in digital marketing.

 

 

References:

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). (2021). Australia’s children, Bullying. Retrieved from https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/children-youth/australias-children/contents/health/bullying

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). (2021). Mental health services in Australia, Prevalence of mental disorders. Retrieved from https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/mental-health-services/mental-health-services-in-australia/report-contents/summary/prevalence-and-policies

Australian Federal Police. (2021). Scale of online child abuse revealed as AFP-led ACCCE marks four years of leading child protection fight. Retrieved from https://www.afp.gov.au/news-media/media-releases/scale-online-child-abuse-revealed-afp-led-accce-marks-four-years-leading

Edith Cowan University (ECU). (2020). Number of online ‘kidfluencers’ is growing, and so too are the risks. Retrieved from https://www.ecu.edu.au/news/latest-news/2020/10/number-of-online-kidfluencers-is-growing-and-so-too-are-the-risks

Australian Broadcasting Corporation. (2024). Four Corners: Can Parents Protect Their Kids Online in the Realm of ‘Kidfluencers’?. Retrieved from https://www.abc.net.au/news/2024-05-20/kidfluencers-children-brand-army-social-media-four-corners/103820492