Anything For Views Parenting: Framing Privacy, Ethics, and Norms for Children of Influencers on YouTube

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2023

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Abstract

Children who appear as the main characters or primary consumers of YouTube content have been the focus of emerging academic literature and public debate (Feller & Burroughs, 2022; Ferguson, 2018; Kumar, 2021). Sharenting, or posting information, photos, or videos about one's children on social media, has also been a discussion and concern among researchers, legal scholars, and parents (Kumar, 2021). Sharenting has online and offline consequences. It exposes personal information, such as a child’s name and whereabouts, which may lead to unwanted attention or safety risks (Brosch, 2016; Blum-Ross, 2015). However, there is a significant subsection of YouTube media where children appear as integral supporting characters of an adult’s content that has yet to be meaningfully researched.The normalization of sharenting has coincided with an upsurge of influencers and influencer marketing (Abidin, 2018). The influencer marketing industry was estimated to be worth 16 billion dollars in 2022, projected to increase to 21 billion dollars in 2023 (Geyser, 2023). Influencers who involve their children in content position them, at times, as unintentional microcelebrities or brand assets (Abidin, 2015). When this happens, their appearance in user-generated content contributes to the premise and profitability of their parent’s brand. However, children who consistently contribute to their parent’s brand have no rights to the money their names, images, and likenesses generate. They have no working hours to abide by and no access to representation by a third party acting without a personal stake in their profitability (Geider, 2021). Children are unaware of the long-term consequences of exposure to a digital audience, including potential privacy violations, online harassment, or reputational harm. They may also not fully understand the implications of having a digital identity established for them before they can make decisions for themselves. While existing literature demonstrates that social media platforms, laws, and policies do not adequately regulate or protect the children of influencers, there has been no effort first to define the child of an influencer and, second, to identify at what point that regulation becomes necessary. In other words, when do influencer parents go beyond mere sharenting? This research project examines the complex interplay between the potential long-term impacts of children's involvement in influencer content and the gaps in regulations related to children’s work on social media. I aim to analyze the regulatory gray area children of influencers inhabit on YouTube and to identify salient features of influencer content which place children at disproportionate risk of undesirable exposure online. The present study scopes the value children provide to user-generated monetized content. It constructs a typology to describe the unique privacy and psychological risks they are exposed to when their parents' income involves their presence. It outlines common arguments influencer parents use to justify their children's use in content production and discusses the impossibility of informed consent for children in this context.

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Hamilton, Bridie E. (2023). Anything For Views Parenting: Framing Privacy, Ethics, and Norms for Children of Influencers on YouTube. Master's thesis, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/27884.

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