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Illinois influencers under 16 will now be entitled to a portion of their earnings

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

If you scroll through Instagram or TikTok or YouTube, you'll probably come across a family or parenting blog or two.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: It's officially summer, and that means it's about 100 degrees outside here in Tennessee.

CHANG: And chances are the kids are a big part of those videos.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Dad, hold me.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Here we go.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Dad.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: You got it. Oh, come on.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: No, Dad.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Oh, it's getting deep.

CHANG: And, you know, some of these videos, they earn money - lots of money. Well, Illinois has a new law that's aimed at protecting the money that child influencers make or help their families make. It's the first legislation enacted in the U.S. that focuses on children performing on the internet, and it comes in the middle of growing concerns about sharing children's lives online for massive audiences. For this week's All Tech Considered, we're talking with Fortesa Latifi. She's a writer for Teen Vogue who's covered child influencers and joins us now to talk about all of this. Welcome.

FORTESA LATIFI: Thank you for having me.

CHANG: Thanks for being with us. OK, so just to make sure that everyone's on the same page here, what exactly is a child influencer? Like, I'm assuming we're not talking about just kids whose parents occasionally post funny pictures of them online or videos, right?

LATIFI: No. So it is strange because there are so many different kinds of child influencers. You have kids who are featured in family vlogging channels on YouTube to toddlers who have millions of followers on TikTok. But to simplify it, a child influencer is basically any child whose online presence generates profit.

CHANG: OK. And to turn to this particular law in Illinois, it started with one very highly motivated child, right? Can you tell us the story?

LATIFI: Yeah. This actually started as a high school project, which I thought was so cool. So I talked to the young woman, Shreya Nallamothu, who is now 16. She was 15 when she had a project in school, and she started looking into how there were no protections for child influencers. And at the end of the project, her teacher was like, well, maybe you should reach out to legislators. And she told me, I guess I'll just shoot my shot. So she reached out to her state senator, who ended up introducing legislation based on the information that she gave him.

CHANG: It's pretty amazing. So what protections exactly does this new legislation in Illinois give child influencers?

LATIFI: Sure. It entitles child influencers to a percentage of the earnings made from the content that they're featured in, and that money is then held in a trust until the child turns 18. Before this, there was no legislation addressing the earnings or labor of child influencers.

CHANG: And how enforceable do you think this will be? Like, what are the consequences if these things don't happen?

LATIFI: The onus here is really on the parents. And what this law does is it gives children legislative ability to sue their parents if the money is not saved for them.

CHANG: Well, you have interviewed people who have grown up as child influencers. What did they tell you about their experiences or just their realizations over time as they were growing up about the impact of the publicity that their parents have given them?

LATIFI: I think one of the fascinating things is how it changes the family dynamic. So one of my sources grew up on a family vlogging YouTube channel. All of the videos together have over a billion views. And she told me that her dad has said to her before, like, I am your dad, but I am also your boss.

CHANG: Wow.

LATIFI: And at one point, she said, you know, I don't want to do YouTube anymore. And her dad said, OK, well, that's fine. But Mom and I are going to have to go back to work. We're going to have to sell this new house. And, you know, it kind of, like, really flips the dynamic of, like, the parent and the child in a really strange way.

CHANG: So among some of the people that you talked to, how are they reacting to this new law?

LATIFI: I mean, they're heartened by the law and what they hope it signals, which is really this movement toward reconsidering the role of children online and what privacy means. But for a lot of them, this law and any laws that may follow in its wake are really too late. One source told me, nothing my parents can do now will take back the years of work I had to put in. Childhood cannot be redone. You know, you get one shot at it.

CHANG: Right. That is Teen Vogue reporter Fortesa Latifi talking to us about Illinois' new law aimed at protecting child influencers. Thank you so much for joining us today.

LATIFI: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.

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