Legislator eyes more Illinois measures to protect child influencers

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(The Center Square) – TikTok and YouTube are full of videos of cute kids getting pranked and doing dumb stuff. High school student Shreya Nallamothu of Normal, Illinois, became concerned that children in video logs are being exploited.

With the help of her teachers, Nallamothu worked on the issue as a class project. In the process, she contacted state Sen. Dave Koehler, D-Peoria, to ask him to investigate. He invited Nallamothu to Springfield to testify before the legislature. Eventually, Koehler developed and passed a bipartisan bill that requires Illinois adults who make videos using children to set aside some of the profits in trust funds for children under the age of 16 who appear in the videos.

“Much like child actors, the children are working. They are generating income,” Koehler said. “We are not talking just thousands of dollars. In some cases, it is millions of dollars.”

Senate Bill 1782, which passed both houses of the Illinois legislature last summer, uses the Child Labor Law to ensure that minors under the age of 16 who appear in the videos receive compensation. It was the first law of its kind in the nation. As a result, Koehler and Nallamothu have been sought out by scholars, lawmakers and media outlets across the country as thought leaders on the subject.

“We had no idea that this issue would take off like it did,” Koehler said.

He and Nallamothu and her parents recently returned from the Family Online Safety Institute in Washington, D.C. where they participated in panel discussions. FOSI is an international non-profit organization that works to make the online world safer for children and families.

As Koehler and Nallamothu see it, the Illinois law is the first step in the effort to protect child influencers from exploitation. They are now turning their attention to the problem of the privacy rights of children. Videos often feature children in vulnerable or embarrassing situations even though they are too young to give their consent.

“We have to create some protections,” Koehler said.

Koehler purposely chose to separate the child labor piece of economic compensation from children’s privacy rights and concerns, he said.

“The question you have to ask is, ‘Would you like everything that you did as a kid to be on the internet for the world to see?’ Most people would probably say, ‘No. I really don’t,’” he said.

Parents have a considerable amount of authority and control over children who are under 18. Unless there is anything illegal or dangerous going on, there are limits as to how much legislators can do to protect children from being emotionally hurt or exploited in the process of making videos.

Koehler’s idea is to provide young people over 18 with the chance to go back and erase videos that they don’t want following them around online for the rest of their lives. Some tech experts insist that once Pandora’s box is opened and a video is out into the world, there is nothing that can be done to truly scrub it from the internet. But others say that there may be ways to accomplish that goal.

“We want to get the most state-of-the-art thinking on this and see if we can’t apply it to some common sense legislation,” Koehler said.

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