The government must introduce legislation to protect child social media influencers from exploitation, according to MPs.
The rise of influencers has produced a new outlet for the UK’s creative industries and boosted the UK economy but it has also brought considerable risks, said the House of Commons digital, culture, media and sport committee.
Julian Knight, the Conservative chair of the committee, said the phenomenon had exposed influencers and their followers to harm.
“The rise of influencer culture online has brought significant new opportunities for those working in the creative industries and a boost to the UK economy,” he said.
“However, as is so often the case where social media is involved, if you say below the shiny surface of what you see on screen you will discover an altogether murkier world where both the influencers and their followers are at risk of exploitation and harm online .”
Influencers produce content on platforms such as YouTube, Instagram and TikTok for followers who often run into the millions. The biggest influencers in the UK include Zoe Sugg, a fashion and beauty “vlogger” whose YouTube channel has 4.9 million subscribers, Brooklyn Beckham and a procession of contestants on reality shows such as Love Island.
However, the report raised specific concerns about children, influencer pay and the flouting of advertising guidelines that require creators to inform users when they have been paid to make a post.
The MPs raised concerns about child influencers, or “kidfluencers”, who earn income through sponsorship and partnership with brands. The content is mostly aimed at other children and, because the minimum age for an Instagram account or setting up a YouTube channel is 13, many of these accounts are managed by parents. Children are also involved in content from family or parenting influencers.
According to one estimate, there are at least 10,000 parent influencers in the UK and one witness told MPs that the UK was “notable” for its prevalence of child influencers.
However, the committee said it had heard concerns from witnesses that some children are being used by parents to capitalize on the profitable child and family influencing market.
The report recommends that the government “urgently” addresses gaps in UK child labor and performance regulations that are leaving child influencers unprotected. New legislation should include provisions on working hours and conditions and protecting a child’s earnings.
“We are deeply concerned that a lack of action in the booming influencer market will lead to even more children in the industry being exploited,” said the report.
The report also addresses a key earner for influencers: being paid by brands to promote their products. This practice has drawn warnings from the UK advertising watchdog, which is concerned that some influencers are not admitting when they are being paid to promote certain content.
The report recommends that the Advertising Standards Authority is given statutory power to enforce its codes, which ban putting up a paid-for post and not declaring that it is an advert. Currently, the organization can “name and shame” transgressors, but not fine them. The report also recommends giving the competition watchdog, the Competition and Markets Authority, greater powers to enforce consumer protection law.
Although social media influencing is a booming business – with global marketing revenue expected to rise from $6bn in 2020 to $24bn by 2025 – the report warned that pay is inconsistent for the vast majority of British influencers.
The committee urged the government to launch an investigation into influencer pay. “The government should investigate pay standards and practice in the influencer marketplace. This should encompass the various revenue streams available to influencers, including deals between influencers and third parties as well as revenue-sharing mechanisms from the major social media platforms.”