According to Senator David Koehler of Peoria, Illinois is the first state in the US to ensure child social media influencers are compensated for their work. He has backed a bill that came into force and will go into effect on July 1, 2024.
“The rise of social media has opened up new avenues for children to make money,” Koehler said in an emailed press release after the bill was signed Friday afternoon. “Many parents have taken this opportunity to pocket the cash while their children continue to work in these digital environments.”
The idea for the law, which covers children under the age of 16 being featured on monetized online platforms, including video blogs (also known as vlogs), was brought to Koehler by a 15-year-old in his district, the Democratic senator said .
Along with coordinated dances and hilarious commentary from toddlers, family vlogs these days also share intimate details of their kids’ lives — grades, potty training, illnesses, misbehavior, first periods — for countless strangers to see. Brand deals with the internet’s darlings can fetch tens of thousands of dollars per video, but so far there’s minimal regulation for the sharehood industry, which experts say can cause serious harm to children.
“Videos with kids are really resonating,” said Bobbi Althoff, a TikToker with more than 5 million followers who used to feature her baby daughter in paid advertising but has since decided against it due to privacy concerns.
Many states already require parents to set aside earnings for child entertainers who appear in more traditional settings such as movies and television. But the Illinois law will be the first specifically targeting social media starlets for the National Conference of State Legislatures, according to Landon Jacquinot, who prosecutes child labor laws.
“We could see other states considering something similar, especially in states that have a lot of family vloggers and social media influencers,” like California and New York, Jacquinot said. “It’s kind of a new world.”
Illinois law provides that child influencers receive a percentage of earnings based on how often they appear on video blogs or online content that generates at least 10 cents per view. To qualify, content must be created in Illinois and children must appear in at least 30% of the content within 30 days.
Video bloggers – or vloggers – would be responsible for keeping records of children’s performances and must put gross earnings into an escrow account for the child until the child is 18; otherwise the child can sue.
Children “deserve to be protected from parents who would try to take advantage of their children’s talents and use them for their own financial gain,” Alex Gough, a spokesman for Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker, said after the governor passed the law had signed.
Shreya Nallamothu, the teenager who brought her concerns to Koehler and launched the legislation, first focused on the issue while scrolling social media during quarantine three years ago.
“I realized that in the world of kidfluencing, there can be a lot of exploitation,” said Nallamohu, now 16. “And I realized that there is absolutely no legislation to protect it.”
She clarified that the law is not intended for parents who share photos of their children on social media for family and friends, or even those who post a viral video. “This is for families who make their income from vlogging kids and family,” she said.
Illinois lawmakers, where Democrats have an absolute majority, passed the law in May with bipartisan support.
Other Democratic-run states have attempted to regulate the child influencer industry, with less success. A 2018 California child labor law included a social media provision that had been removed by the time it was passed. Washington state’s 2023 bill — led by Chris McCarty, another teenager and founder of Quit Clicking Kids, an advocacy group focused on protecting minors through online monetization — failed in committee.
“I sincerely hope that momentum continues in other states and eventually across the country,” McCarty said Friday of the Illinois law.
But several Republican-led states this year instead relaxed child labor laws to alleviate labor shortages. A law signed in Iowa in late May allows teenagers to have more jobs and longer hours, and Arkansas in March scrapped permits requiring employers to verify a child’s age and parental consent.
Savage is a corps member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to cover undercover topics.