Social Media Generation Babies Advocate for Legal Safeguards

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In a recent CNN article, Faith Karami explores the increasing trend of young people born into the social media era, whose parents have extensively shared their lives on social platforms, and how they are pushing for legal safeguards to shield children from exploitation, as parents monetize their children’s images, videos, and personal experiences on social media.

I was in fourth grade. I was 9 years old. The date was September 9, 2009. And my mom posted … something like, ‘Oh my God, my baby girl’s a woman today. She got her first period. A lot of my friends and their parents had social media, so it was super embarrassing.

– Cam Barrett, a 25-year old, on CNN

Cam Barrett, a social media strategist from Chicago, is vocal about the dangers of exploitative “sharenting” and family vlogging culture, where children’s personal lives are shared publicly online. She recounts a chilling experience at 12 when a stranger messaged her on Facebook after tracking her home, causing anxiety and a sense of constant surveillance. At a February 2023 hearing, she tearfully implored Washington state lawmakers to pass legislation safeguarding minors from such exposure.

During her testimony, Barrett revealed distressing incidents, including her mother’s invasive documentation of her life. Her mother’s actions extended to exploiting her vulnerabilities, like photographing her in a hospital after an accident and exaggerating her health issues online, leading to bullying and her eventual withdrawal from school. Barrett’s emotional plea to lawmakers stemmed from her own experiences, emphasizing the lifelong impact of a digital footprint imposed without consent. Despite her efforts to address the issue, tensions with her mother persist, resulting in strained communication between them.

Legal Protection for Child Influencers

Members of Generation Z, such as Barrett, born between the late 1990s and the early 2010s, have grown up in a digital age where social media shapes their childhood experiences. Reflecting on her upbringing, Barrett acknowledges her mother’s lack of understanding regarding the implications of online sharing.

Today’s parents, however, are increasingly aware of the impacts of social media on children, thanks in part to advocates like Barrett who aim to raise awareness about the risks associated with oversharing personal moments online. While occasional family photos are generally acceptable, concerns arise with influencers who transform their family lives into public spectacles for profit. In response to these concerns, some states are implementing legislation to protect the privacy and financial interests of child influencers.

Illinois, Barrett’s home state, recently passed a law requiring parents to compensate child influencers and manage their earnings responsibly. However, the broader issue remains about the exploitation of children’s vulnerability for social media engagement and financial gain.

Social media happened to us so quickly and changed many of our daily habits and behaviors virtually overnight. It’s like we all started taking a new medication, with no clinical trials or studies and no information about long-term side effects.

One of the biggest lessons we are learning from people who were overshared as children is that social media is not the place to let your guard down, as a viewer or as a creator.  Social media is not a safe space

– Caroline Easom on CNN

Comedian Caroline Easom emphasizes the need for caution, noting that social media platforms often prioritize authenticity without considering the long-term consequences, particularly for children whose trust and safety may be compromised by online exposure.

Many states are grafting new laws similar to those governing child actors, CNN reports.

  • “The Illinois law, which goes into effect in July, will require family content creators to put a portion of their earnings into a blocked trust fund for their children.
  • “Lawmakers in California, Georgia, Missouri, Ohio, Minnesota and Arizona have considered similar legislation.

Jessica Maddox, an assistant professor at the University of Alabama who studies social media influencers, told CNN that she is hopeful other states will follow in Illinois’ footsteps.

“Many people don’t view social media content creation and influencing as work, but it takes time and skill to do. Social media has changed the nature of labor, and as a result, the nature of child labor. While it may be fun for a child to want to be in their parents’ videos, children, especially young children, don’t have the capacity to understand how far and wide social media content can go. In cases where their parents are receiving financial compensation for featuring their child, that child has essentially performed as a type of labor,” Maddox wrote in an email to CNN.