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YouTube 'kidfluencers' should have same legal protections as child actors, says Royal College of Psychiatrists

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 10/07/2019 Mike Wright

© Getty Child YouTube stars should be restricted from performing on the platform in the same way as child actors, the Royal College of Psychiatrists has said.

The College is urging the Government to consider new laws to ensure ‘kidfluencers’ are not overworked or exploited in the “gold rush” for internet fame. 

Legal experts have also told the Telegraph the unclear nature of the law around child social media stars could lead to future legal battles over fortunes and media rights.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists’s (RCP) call comes as children as young as four are now garnering millions of followers and vast advertising incomes on platforms like YouTube through toy unboxing and review videos.

One of the largest kidfluencers in the UK is the Toys and Little Gaby YouTube channel, which sees a four-year-old, Gaby, playing with new toys with her brother Alex, 5, and mother Sabine Vilumsone, 28.

Records on Companies House show the channel, which has been running since Gaby was one and now has almost 13 million subscribers, made almost £1.2 million last year.

Another UK kidfluencer, five-year-old Emily Cozmiuc from London, has attracted more than 10 million subscribers on her Emily Tube channel through similar toy videos.

Federal Way, WA, USA - Dec 11 2011 © Getty Federal Way, WA, USA - Dec 11 2011 The RCP raised the issue of Kidfluencer rights in its response to the Government’s proposals to impose a legal duty of care on tech companies to better protect their users from harm. 

The College said that although it welcomed the duty of care it did not appear to cover children performing on social media, adding that there is currently “no regulatory framework to protect them from the burdens of intensive or excessive labour”.  

The RCP also called for tech giants such as YouTube to be made responsible for ensuring kidflencers’ welfare.

Dr Richard Graham, a consultant psychiatrist and RCP spokesman, said as well as the risk of being overworked there was a danger of young kidfluencers suffering “techo-stress” and “burnout” due to the demands of keeping millions of fans engaged and entertained.

He said: “There is the risk of disruption (for kidfluencers) to the ordinary opportunities of life through education, sleep and relaxation and there is quickly a risk of excessive labour.

"Then there are the consequences that follow, such as the burden of the interaction with your followers and the rise and fall of success. 

“If one looks at the world of performance regulation, it would be a good first step to mirror that for influencers and creators. But the platforms themselves should have a responsibility, they are profiting from it.”

There are already strict rules in place around traditional child employment, such as prohibiting under 13s working more than 12 hours in a school week, working before 7am or after 7pm, or working more than four hours without a break.

There are also separate laws around child actors dating back to 1968, which state they need a licence to take part in paid performances.

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Steve Kuncewicz, a partner at BLM Law specialising in social media law, said it was unclear how the current rules applied to children earning advertising revenue on social media.

He warned that the rapid rise of kidfluencers could lead to future disputes similar to that of the US child actor Macaulay Culkin, who, aged 14, successfully removed his parents as his legal guardians to take control of his then estimated $50 million (£40 million) fortune.

“This is about old law catching up with new tech and there are a lot of gaps that I think need to be filled in,” said Mr Kuncewicz.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if a few years down the line we see another Macaulay Culkin or Drew Barrymore, where it will be ‘my parents took my money’.” 

A spokesman for the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, which is writing the Government's online legislation with the Home Office, said: “The Government has unveiled tough new measures to ensure the UK is the safest place in the world to be online. We will place a legally binding duty of care on online platforms towards their users, overseen by an independent regulator.

“We are clear that companies will be required to build an understanding of the risks associated with their services, and take reasonable steps to guard against harm to their users.”

MSN are empowering Women In Sport this summer. Find out more about our campaign and the charity fighting to promote the transformational and lifelong rewards of exercise for women and girls in the UK here.

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