Volume 111

Honey, I Monetized the Kids: Commercial Sharenting and Protecting the Rights of Consumers and the Internet's Child Stars

by Melanie N. Fineman

According to Adam Ali, his daughter “Samia’s birth video is on YouTube, so she’s pretty much been born into social media.” Footnote #1 content: Sapna Maheshwari, Online and Making Thousands, at Age 4: Meet the Kidfluencers, N.Y. TIMES (Mar. 1, 2019), https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/01/business/media/social-media-influencers-kids.html. Katie Stauffer’s twins have “grown up on their mom’s Instagram account.” Footnote #2 content: Remy Smidt, This Mom’s Full-Time Job Is Posting to Instagram and This Is What It’s Like, BUZZFEED NEWS (Jan. 25, 2018, 8:45 AM), https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/remysmidt/milaemma-katie-stauffer [https://perma.cc/JB9J-T8W5]. Sarah and Johnny Tanner shared posts with their audience of 1.48 million online subscribers of their daughter learning how to shave her legs and shopping for her first bra at age eleven. Footnote #3 content: Danya Hajjaji, YouTube Lets Parents Exploit Their Kids for Clicks, NEWSWEEK (Oct. 4, 2021, 9:00 AM), https://www.newsweek.com/youtube-lets-lawless-lucrative-sharenting-industry-put-kids-mercyinternet-1635112 [https://perma.cc/P796-3NAK].

These featured children are objects of commercial sharenting—“[w]hen parents overshare photos and other data about their children on social media” Footnote #4 content: For a definition of “sharenting,” see Kendall Ciesemier, Taige Jensen & Nayeema Raza, If You Didn’t ‘Sharent,’ Did You Even Parent?, N.Y. TIMES, at 00:26 (Aug. 7, 2019), https://www.nytimes. com/2019/08/07/opinion/parents-social-media.html. “Sharenting” has also been described as applying to “primary caregivers.” Beth Ann Mayer, Why Parents Overshare on Social Media and When It Might Be Dangerous, PARENTS (Feb. 1, 2022), https://www.parents.com/parenting/better-parenting/ sharenting-meaning-and-when-it-might-be-dangerous [https://perma.cc/UQL6-4QGA]. for commercial gain. Footnote #5 content: Commercial sharenting relates to “sharenting” in a commercial context. In the words of Harvard Law’s Leah Plunkett, when parents commercially sharent, they “are taking [their] child, or in some cases, [their] broader family’s private or intimate moments, and sharing them digitally, in the hope of having some kind of current or future financial benefit.” Katie Collins, TikTok Parents Are Taking Advantage of Their Kids. It Needs to Stop, CNET (Aug. 7, 2022, 5:00 AM), https://www.cnet.com/tech/ services-and-software/tiktok-parents-are-taking-advantage-of-their-kids-it-needs-to-stop [https://perma. cc/6UV7-J3EQ]. Per Plunkett, the gain from commercial sharenting “could be immediate compensation, development of business interests for future compensation, or other forms of current or potential revenue generation. Revenue may come from a variety of sources, including marketing agreements with businesses to promote a given product or service and other partnerships or deals . . . .” LEAH A. PLUNKETT, SHARENTHOOD: WHY WE SHOULD THINK BEFORE WE TALK ABOUT OUR KIDS ONLINE 55 (2019).   The term “sharenting” was launched in a 2012 Wall Street Journal article about parents seeking to gain attention online. Footnote #6 content: See Steven Leckart, The Facebook-Free Baby, WALL ST. J. (May 12, 2012, 12:01 AM), https:// www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304451104577392041180138910. This content has grown on parent-managed accounts on a variety of platforms ever since, Footnote #7 content: See Leah Plunkett, To Stop Sharenting & Other Children’s Privacy Harms, Start Playing: A Blueprint for a New Protecting the Private Lives of Adolescents and Youth (PPLAY) Act, 44 SETON HALL LEGIS. J. 457, 460 (2020) (“While social media may be the most visible of these activities, there are countless others.”). including for commercial gain. Footnote #8 content: University of Western Australia’s Crystal Abidin has been discussing “micro-microcelebrities,” babies and toddlers who have significant online followings and earn thousands of dollars online, since at least 2015. See Crystal Abidin, Micromicrocelebrity: Branding Babies on the Internet, 18 M/C J., no. 5, 2015.   Some parents began posting on social media as early as when Facebook launched in 2004; Footnote #9 content: See Making the News: “Sharenting” in the Modern World, FIRST 5 L.A., https://www.first5la.org/ article/making-the-news-sharenting-in-the-modern-world [perma.cc/TS77-RUUX] (last visited Mar. 17, 2023). “mommy bloggers” started sharing their parenting stories online around that time as well. Footnote #10 content: “Mommy bloggers” started posting as early as one year later, in 2005. See Kathryn Jezer-Morton, Did Moms Exist Before Social Media?, N.Y. TIMES (Apr. 16, 2020), https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/ 16/parenting/mommy-influencers.html; see also Kathryn Jezer-Morton, Inside the World of Stay-atHome Moms Who Blog for Profit, BUZZFEED NEWS (Apr. 19, 2019, 11:26 AM) [hereinafter JezerMorton, Inside the World], https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/kathrynjezermorton/stay-at-homemom-blogs-mommy-blogging-printables-shopify [https://perma.cc/2M3W-8BR4] (discussing the history of early “mommy blogs”); Kathryn Jezer-Morton, Online Momming in the ‘Perfectly Imperfect’ Age, CUT (Apr. 10, 2019), https://www.thecut.com/2019/04/online-moms-mommyblogs-instagram.html (same). At the time, perhaps “[t]he world was unprepared for the mom bloggers.” Margaret Wheeler Johnson, The Kids of Mom Bloggers Are Old Enough to Read It All Now. What Do They Think?, ROMPER (Aug. 17, 2022), https://www.romper.com/parenting/kids-of-mommy-bloggers-interview [https://perma.cc/KHA8- 42ZG]. Nevertheless, the blogs have in part been credited for sparking influencer marketing. See id.; Lyz Lenz, The Mommy Blog is Dead. Long Live the Mommy Blog, TOPIC (May 2019), https://www.topic.com/ the-mommy-blog-is-dead-long-live-the-mommy-blog [https://perma.cc/KV5U-H25J]. This credit has not been as robust as it could be. See Johnson, supra. The increase in social media platforms—such as Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok—has furthered this spread, Footnote #11 content: Large online followings are not necessarily essential to having persuasive commercial sharenting posts. See Gerardo A. Dada, What Is Influencer Marketing and How Can Marketers Use It Effectively?, FORBES (Nov. 14, 2017, 8:00 AM), https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescommunicationscouncil/2017/ 11/14/what-is-influencer-marketing-and-how-can-marketers-use-it-effectively (“One of the biggest misconceptions about influencers is that they are someone with a large social media following. This thinking confuses influence with popularity. The act of influencing requires a specific result: a change in thinking or behavior. An influencer, therefore, is someone who has the power to influence the perception of others or gets them to do something different.”). as have the opportunities to make immense sums of money online from posts centered around child stars. Footnote #12 content: See Taylor Mooney, Companies Make Millions Off Kid Influencers, and the Law Hasn’t Kept Up, CBS NEWS (Aug. 26, 2019, 6:19 AM), https://www.cbsnews.com/news/kid-influencers-companiesmake-millions-law-hasnt-kept-up-cbsn-originals [https://perma.cc/2HRP-KTUC] 2023] HONEY, I MONETIZED THE KIDS 849 . The financial benefits of commercial sharenting will be discussed later in this Note. See infra Section III.B.

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