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August 18, 2023

Pa. lawmaker proposes protecting young social media influencers under state's child labor laws

Set to be introduced this fall, a new bill would regulate money earned by children and families through social media

Pennsylvania could soon regulate money earned by child influencers and celebrities from their or their parents' social media content under a bill set to be introduced this fall. 

The bill aims to protect children whose photographs, likenesses or names are used to make money through social media under Pennsylvania's existing child labor laws. It will be introduced by Rep. Torren Ecker, a Republican serving portions of Adams and Cumberland counties, when the state House reconvenes in September.

While many parents use social media to document their children's early development, major milestones and silly antics, only children and families that earn money from their social media content will be included under the bill. Ecker said that the focus is on preventing the exploitation of children and ensuring that they receive income that is earned from their work.

"We always hear about the devastating later-life impact that child celebrity and wealth can have on those who experience fame early in life," Ecker said. "Now, every parent or relative with a cell phone can work to make their children or relatives into social media celebrities that, without their consent, can deprive children of privacy, income from their work, and fair working conditions within the scope of current law."

Though the bill's specifics are unknown, Pennsylvania’s current child labor laws include regulations for child actors and performers, like requiring parents to set aside a portion of their child’s earnings in a trust fund that they can access when they turn 18.

Pennsylvania last updated its child labor laws in 2012, providing additional protections for minors who earn money from reality television and documentary appearances on shows like "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" and "Dance Moms," which featured children in starring roles. Those revisions added to existing protections for children earning money from modeling and artistic performances. 

"Kidfluencers" — children with large social media followings — have created an $8 billion social media advertising industry over the last several years, with some highly successful influencers earning up to $26 million per year through advertisements or brand sponsorships, according to Humanium, an international organization focused on eliminating child exploitation. 

Similarly, family influencing has become a viable career path for many, with parents earning significant amounts of money from sharing content featuring their children, according to the University of Chicago's School of Law. Family vlogging and influencing, in particular, has been met with increased scrutiny as critics believe children cannot give informed consent to their images and likenesses being posted publicly. 

"As someone with an active social media presence and young children, I know there is a fine line between appropriate inclusion of young children on social media platforms and exploitation," Ecker said. "While I normally believe government should take a hands-off approach to regulating private business, protecting children from exploitation is of paramount importance in any society. We must make sure we are putting children in the best possible position to have healthy and successful lives." 

Last week, Illinois became the first state to pass a law allowing teenagers over the age of 18 to take legal action against their parents if they were featured in monetized social media content and not properly compensated, similar to rights held by child actors. Under the law, which goes into effect in January, Illinois parents will be required to put aside 50% of earnings for a piece of content into a trust fund for the child, CNN reported. 

Washington has a bill working its way through the legislature that would require parents to put aside some revenue earned through social media content in a trust fund that children would be given access to when they reach adulthood, Mashable reported. While these pieces of legislation mirror California's Coogan Law, which was passed in 1939 to protect child performers, California has not enacted separate legislation for child influencers. 

Ecker's bill will be formally introduced when the state House of Representatives reconvenes this September.