The rise of online influencers has exposed regulatory gaps which leave children at risk of exploitation, MPs say in a new report which warns some young content creators are being used by their parents running their accounts.
A report from the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee on influencer culture has called on the government to strengthen employment and advertising laws to protect children – both as viewers and influencers – and online performers.
Influencers produce content on online platforms such as YouTube, Instagram and TikTok for followers who can run into the millions.
The committee’s report said it had heard concerns during its inquiry that some children within the influencer economy were being used by parents and family members – who often manage their online accounts – who were seeking to capitalise on the lucrative online market.
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As well as calling for updates to UK child labour regulations, it calls for advertising regulators be given more power to enforce the law around advertising and close influencer loopholes.
Julian Knight, the Conservative chair of the DCMS committee, said the rise of influencers had exposed such content creators and their followers to considerable 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,” Mr Knight said.
“However, as is so often the case where social media is involved, if you dig 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.
“Child viewers, who are still developing digital literacy, are in particular danger in an environment where not everything is always as it seems, while there is a woeful lack of protection for young influencers who often spend long hours producing financially lucrative content at the direction of others.”
Mr Knight added that “inaction” had left regulations behind the times in a digital world, and that was particularly concerning when it came to the protection of children.
According to Ofcom data, in 2021 up to half of all children said they watched vlogger or YouTube influencer content.
To combat such harms, the report calls for a code of conduct for influencer marketing to be commissioned.
In addition, the report urges the government should conduct a study into the influencer ecosystem so it can be properly regulated as it grows.