The 'kidfluencers': no child's play

15 minutes
The 'kidfluencers': no child's play
"Art collage of kids taking selfies", performed by Adobe Firefly.

In November last year, the video of an Afro-Colombian boy flooded social media in Colombia. In the publication, recorded with a cell phone and without major production, Yanfry appeared dressed in the blue uniform of his school. Walking upright and steadily through the streets somewhere in the Pacific, he tells his uncle - who is behind the camera - that this is how men walk. 

Yanfry Díaz is now four years old and has more than five million followers spread across his Facebook, TikTok, Instagram and YouTube accounts, which are managed by his parents. As in so many other cases on the Internet, this child's fame came by accident, but has been taken advantage of. A manager represents him from Bogota and serves companies that seek him to promote products through him. 

Thus, Yanfry has visited the police, promoted toys, appeared in commercials for streaming services and, recently, became the image of a chocolate brand. The problem, as recently reported by Vorágine, is that Yanfry suffers from sugar problems.

The history of child influencers is an update of the old story of minors and the entertainment industry. Probably the most relevant antecedent is Jackie Coogan, an American actor who at the age of seven became a worldwide celebrity for starring in the movie The Kid alongside Charlie Chaplin. His name also gave title to the law protecting underage actors in California, passed a few years after Coogan, as an adult, sued his parents for the return of his childhood earnings. 

As was the case for Coogan at the time, there is no regulation today to protect minors from the instant fame, exposure and risk of child exploitation that can result from their increasingly common and lucrative network activity. In 2018, Ryan Kaji, a then eight-year-old boy, became the highest paid youtuber in the world by earning $22 million through his channel Ryan's World, where daily toy reviews and videos about his daily life are posted. 

A few months ago, a report presented by a British parliamentary committee drew attention to the need to design rules that set the rules for children's work in social media, including limits on working hours, protection of their income and supervision by the authorities. 

"Minor viewers are particularly at risk in an environment where all is not always as it seems, while there is a woeful lack of protection for young influencers who often spend many hours producing lucrative content for others," the report reads.

Children's activity on social media can have serious consequences, especially when it becomes a family's main source of income. According to the document, the long hours of work required to produce content can physically and mentally exhaust minors and impose unnecessary pressure on them. In addition, the constant exposure of their lives, often in real time, can put them at risk, given the number of people who can access the location of their homes or schools. 

For Andrea Urbas, founder of, an Argentine organization dedicated to promoting children's rights in the digital environment, it is socially dangerous to use child influencers to generate income. Children's health, education and other rights should be guaranteed without the need for them to become celebrities. 

Social media work, especially that which turns everyday life into content, can affect children's privacy. As happens in some kinds of channels, such as those that publish family vlogs, very personal moments of children's lives are displayed, such as medical visits or reactions to stressful situations. 

For Urbas, there is also a lack of balance and a power relationship between parents and children that needs attention. When children are very young, "they don't have much chance to oppose or do anything" other than what their parents say. In the end, he points out, the problems come when everything goes from being a diversion to becoming a demand and finally a job.

Added to all this are the difficulties that content creators of any age face: anxiety and depression as a result of overexposure, their dependence on social approval or the harassment they are often subjected to, even if they are not the ones who manage their accounts. 

The popularity of kidfluencers, as this class of creators is known, has attracted companies that find in them a showcase. The lack of clear rules also affects the additional requirements that marketing agencies should comply with to work with minors, about which there is no certainty. Nor is there any warning about the effect of this advertising on the followers, millions of children and adolescents who are offered products on a daily basis, the benefits of which are now the subject of debate. 

This is the case of ultra-processed foods and sugary drinks, two types of products that have been fought by medical and parental associations in Latin America and around the world. In a 2020 research, the American Academy of Pediatrics analyzed the videos of children influencers with more reproductions on YouTube. There it became evident that these contents - in which fast food and soft drinks brands are positioned - have millions of impressions, which can alter the consumption preferences of minors and even of the parents themselves. 

Screenshot of some videos of Ryan Koji, the highest paid youtuber in 2018 and 2019. Via: American Academy of Pediatrics, 2020.

Rejecting that success, however, is not easy for parents and guardians. Before he was a public figure, Yanfry's parents had no way to finance the costs of treatment for their son's hypoglycemia and hypothyroidism, as Vorágine explained. When they could, they had to take a six-hour bus ride to reach a medical center in Cali, as there were no necessary supplies in Istmina, the municipality where they live, where poverty rates reach 87%. However, since becoming an influencer, Yanfry has been able to get to her medical appointments by plane and has covered her transportation and lodging costs.

Yanfry's fan base continues to grow as new brands arrive to use him as an image. His case brings to the table several of the tensions of children's work as content creators: the possibility of income for a family, the recording of moments in his life and the problematic relationship with the products he promotes. 

Perhaps, in more than one sense, the text he recites in the commercial of the chocolate brand that has him as the image of its latest campaign illustrates the position of several kidfluencers: "Today I have a tough day: I have to prepare my breakfast, take the car to the workshop and leave some bills done. That's why I drink chocolate (...) because I need energy for every day". He speaks, indeed, like a working adult.

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