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A new Illinois Law to Protect Child Influencers

Updated: Sep 9, 2023

Illinois has taken a historic first step as the first state in the country to pass a law designed to protect child social media influencers. This new legislation ensures that children under 16 who appear in online videos and content are fairly compensated.


Why is this a big deal? Because Illinois is the first state to have successfully passed a unique piece of legislation. Today we'll look at how minors featured in online content will receive a fair share of the profits and how other states can use this legislation as precedent of their own.


What is the new Illinois law to protect child influencers?

Initially a school project by teenager Shreya Nallamothu, this effort evolved into an examination of the limited protections for child influencers in the United States. Nallamothu shared her research with her state senator, leading to the development of this law.


This new Illinois law to protect child influencers is an amendment to the state's child labour laws. It guarantees child influencers a portion of the earnings from the content they're part of, held in trust until they turn 18. "Child influencing" has become a popular career choice, with top YouTubers and TikTokers earning millions annually from brand deals and sponsored posts.


This legislation is to protect child influencers – putting the power in their hands, where it rightfully belongs.


How long have child influencers been exploited?

Children have been exploited by their parents in media for years, but more recently, there has been a dramatic shift in the online exploitation of children with the rising popularity of social media. The harsh reality: some parents are just looking for a way to cash in and make money. It seems the most blatant and well-known cases are associated with child actor stars when it comes to the entertainment industry.

Parents of these talented children often hold their children captive by explicitly controlling their finances, creating a dependency on them. By having legal custody and excluding them from any sort of financial literacy, parents in this situation are almost completely in control.

The question begs if the child is working, earning money, and they are under the age of 18 – does the money belong to them, or their prospective guardian? In some cases, the parents become dependent, being financially eclipsed by their offspring. Take Shirley Temple for example, when she became famous for acting, she not only supported her family, but also her 7 siblings. Even though she was working every day, earning her own money, she wasn’t legally entitled to it.


The first child actor laws in America

The first child actor laws in America were passed in California in 1939. The laws, commonly known as the Coogan Act, were named after child actor Jackie Coogan, who had been a major child star in the 1920s and 1930s, but was left penniless by his mother and stepfather. The Coogan Act required that a percentage of a child actor's earnings be set aside in a trust account that could not be accessed by the child's parents or guardians. The law aimed to protect child actors from exploitation and predatory guardians who want to take advantage of them. They’re not perfect and don’t fully encompass the entertainment business, but ensure that child actors have some financial security when they reach adulthood.


This legislature was originally aimed directly at helping child actors and left out other more modern forms of child entertainers, such as musicians and influencers. However, over the years, the law has been expanded in California to include other types of performers, such as child models, athletes, and voiceover actors.


The first child actor laws in Canada

The first instance of a child actor or entertainer laws being passed in Canada was the Ontario Child Performers Protection Act, which was enacted in 1968. This law was introduced in response to concerns about the working conditions and exploitation of child actors, singers, and dancers in the entertainment industry. The Ontario Child Performers Protection Act required that child performers under the age of 16 have a work permit, that their earnings be held in trust until they reach the age of majority, and that they receive a minimum amount of education while working in the industry. The law also established a Board of Control to oversee the administration of the Act and to ensure that child performers were not being exploited or subjected to dangerous working conditions.


In Canada, child actors, singers, and entertainers are subject to specific labour laws and regulations to ensure their safety and well-being while on set or on tour. These laws vary by province, but they typically require that child performers have a work permit and that a portion of their earnings is placed in a trust account for their future use.


Since then, other Canadian provinces and territories have passed their own laws to protect child performers, and the federal government has introduced regulations related to child labour and employment standards. Today, child performers in Canada are protected by a range of laws and regulations, as well as industry codes of conduct, designed to ensure their safety, well-being, and education while working in the entertainment industry.


In addition to labour laws, child performers in Canada are also protected by entertainment industry codes of conduct, which are designed to prevent exploitation and abuse. These codes of conduct cover issues such as working hours, education, and accommodations, and they are enforced by industry organizations such as the Canadian Actors' Equity Association and the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television, and Radio Artists (ACTRA).


Overall, child actors, singers, and entertainers in Canada are legally protected, while child influencers and their guardians on social media are not. They must only adhere to the policies and guidelines of the platforms they use.


What is a child influencer?

As for child social media influencers, the laws governing their employment and earnings may vary by state and country. In some cases, child labour laws that apply to traditional forms of employment may also cover child performers in the music or social media industries. In other cases, separate laws or regulations may exist to protect the rights of child performers in these fields.


I’m sure you’ve all seen them on Instagram or YouTube – whether it’s cringe-inducing family vloggers like Ace Family or internet OG’s like Ryan’s Toys Review, these children have grown up on the internet for the world to see, for better or worse. These kids are making their families more money on a single YouTube video than I make in a year. Ryan makes between $95,000 and $1.5 million a month on AdSense revenue alone - that’s not counting brand deals, sponsored content, and merch.

Even with a seemingly happy child like Ryan opening toys every day, and uploading videos almost every 4 hours - at what point does it stop being fun for him, and start becoming a job? Check out this post from another great dad blog Fatherly that touches on the topic: "This company, these parents, are using their own children to market to other kids. And while adults are seeing the videos and ultimately making the purchases, the intended audience is these little kids."


Family vloggers exploiting their children

Unfortunately, family vlogging channels that exploit their family for views are a dime a dozen on YouTube. In this article, we're going to touch on two of the most egregious examples of channels 8 Passengers and the LaBrant family.


Ruby Franke of 8 passengers arrested - charged with 6 felony counts of child abuse

Who's Ruby Frank? Franke, a 41-year-old content creator, transitioned from being a video blogger to a "mental fitness trainer." Hailing from Utah, she gained notoriety through her YouTube channel, which prominently featured her husband, formerly an engineering professor at Brigham Young University, and their six children: Shari, Chad, Abby, Julie, Russell, and Eve. At one point, Franke diligently posted videos of her family's adventures five days a week.


Deeply rooted in their faith, Franke and her family are devout members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In 2016, she shared with local TV station KSL that their YouTube channel, "8 Passengers," provided them with a unique platform to showcase their Mormon beliefs in a way that wasn't typical in Springville, Utah. Franke also expressed that filming the YouTube series served as a valuable reminder to embrace the present moment, allowing her to savor quality time with her children and keep her stress levels in check.


What's happening with 8 Passengers?

Franke, a Utah mother known for her parenting-focused YouTube channel, "8 Passengers," is facing serious legal trouble. She has been charged with multiple counts of aggravated child abuse, along with her business partner, following an incident where Franke's 12-year-old son sought help at a neighbor's house, displaying signs of malnourishment and physical abuse.


Late Wednesday, Franke's son managed to escape from their Ivins, Utah home, which she shares with her business partner, Jodi Hildebrandt, who is also a co-defendant in this case. The boy sought assistance from a neighbor, requesting food and water.


According to arrest records, he appeared severely malnourished, and an attending officer noted deep lacerations from being bound with rope, as well as duct tape on his extremities. A subsequent search of Hildebrandt's residence revealed Franke's 10-year-old daughter in a similarly malnourished condition.


Both women opted not to speak with law enforcement and requested legal representation, although the identity of their attorneys remains undisclosed. Franke's husband, Kevin, was not mentioned in the report, and the current status of their relationship is unclear. Kevin Franke's lawyer later made a statement during a Good Morning America appearance saying, “He just wants to do what’s best for his kids and get them back, get them under his tutelage and his fathership and protect them.”


Why is 8 Passengers famous?

Franke gained fame in the 2010s by chronicling her family life and parenting on the now-deleted YouTube channel "8 Passengers," amassing over 2 million subscribers. In recent times, concerns from viewers have been raised regarding Franke's strict parenting methods, including withholding food from her children or making them sleep on the floor as a form of discipline or instruction.


It seems that states across the country need to follow Illinois example with stories like this becoming more and more prevalent each year.


What happened with the LaBrant family?

Another soul-crushing example of parents exploiting their children for money would be, the LaBrant family on YouTube. This particular family has been making terrible lowbrow videos for years and exists in the internet hell that is family vloggers. Unfortunately, despite their lack of originality and exploitative content, they have had quite a bit of success themselves, and garnered a large fanbase with over 13.1 million subscribers on YouTube.


They are most known for click-bait and faking their OWN CHILD having cancer to promote their political agenda regarding their views on abortion. They even went as far as going to a children’s hospital and filming children to give their video more credibility. Here’s the screenshot of the original video for context. I’ve blurred the children’s faces for their privacy, they were not blurred in the original thumbnail.


LaBrant family - new Illinois Law to Protect Child Influencers


After the LaBrant family drama

Now the LaBrant family did receive extensive criticism online regarding this lack of human decency, but nonetheless made an exorbitant amount of money from the video alone. Their children are all dependents and are not legally entitled to the money that was earned from the video. We can all hope that they’ll handle the situation in a fair and responsible fashion, but what if they don’t?

Think of this situation; in 10 years, when the video is still making money for the LaBrant parents, and their child is finally 18 – what if they want their parents to take down the videos? Legally speaking, their parents own the videos, the rights to them, and the channel itself. They have full control and don’t have any obligation to take the videos down. The child would have to seek legal recourse if they didn’t take down the videos. Obviously, this is an extreme case, but so was Shirley temple supporting her entire family, or Jack Coonie. Money and greed can turn people against each other, even their own children.


Conclusion

Fortunately, there is a silver lining to this bleak story, a new Illinois Law to Protect Child Influencers has finally passed legislation. It aims to protect child influencers from being extorted by their guardians. This legislature, if passed, will put the power back into the hands of the influencers and set a legal precedent for them. One of the most notable portions of this bill is the ability for the child to demand all their content be retroactively taken down that was put online before the age of 18. This eliminates parents exploiting their children for their “consent” to put their content online and lets them choose what is and isn’t on the internet.

It's not perfect, and it's only Illinois – but this would allow other states looking to pass similar bills a precedent to build off of. It will be an important legal milestone if and when the bill is passed and a first step towards bringing child actor laws into the 21st century.


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