Influencers should be protected under law, say MPs

·3-min read
MPs are concerned that children are being ‘used by parents to capitalise on a lucrative market' (Getty Images)
MPs are concerned that children are being ‘used by parents to capitalise on a lucrative market' (Getty Images)

Regulatory gaps in the influencer industry leave children vulnerable to exploitation and have resulted in “unacceptably low” compliance with advertising rules, MPs say.

A report from the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee on influencer culture, published on Monday 9 May, has called on the government to strengthen employment and advertising laws to protect children and influencers, and increase transparency on social media platforms.

As the number of child influencers continues to grow, MPs said they are concerned that children are being “used by parents to capitalise on a lucrative market”.

The report highlights a gap in UK child labour regulation, which leaves child influencers without protection.

Some child influencers have gained such popularity that they become the primary income streams for their families, however under current UK laws, child influencers do not have the same protections as children in the entertainment industry.

In the UK, a child under 13 may work part-time in areas such as television, theatre and modelling if they have a child performance licence.

MPs have asked the government to introduce new legislation which would include provisions on working hours and conditions for children and mandate the protection of children’s earnings.

The influencer industry also suffers from a lack of payment transparency which negatively impacts influencers from minority ethnic backgrounds, the report said.

Additionally, there is no standardised pricing for work, which makes it easier for brands to underpay influencers.

In a bid to counter this, MPs recommend the government should investigate pay standards across the influencer landscape.

In December last year, a study of the influencer industry in the US identified a 29 per cent pay gap between white influencers and those from black and other minority ethnic backgrounds.

The pay divide was widest between white and black influencers, with white influencers earning 35 per cent more.

Another issue among the influencer industry which has been reported on widely, yet persists, is failure to comply with advertising laws. The Competition and Markets Authority said compliance is “unacceptably low”.

MPs said this is partly because rules around advertising are not clear enough. “Many influencers, especially new entrants to the market who may lack support, are still unaware of their obligations,” the report said.

The Advertising Standards Authority currently lists the names of non-compliant influencers – those who routinely fail to clearly disclose when a social media post is an advert – on a dedicated area on its website.

It began monitoring the accounts of UK-based influencers in 2020 after a sweep of 24,000 posts found that rules around ad disclosures were only being followed 35 per cent of the time.

“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,” Julian Knight, the chair of the committee, 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.

“This report has held a mirror up to the problems which beset the industry, where for too long it has been a case of lights, camera, inaction. It is now up to the Government to reshape the rules to keep pace with the changing digital landscape and ensure proper protections for all.”

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