Ryan Kaji is one of the highest paid ‘child influencers’ on the planet, but internet success stories like his pose a challenge to regulators.
Today: social media influencers and how one boy’s success raises questions about the way they shape our lives.
Ryan Kaji is a multi-millionaire.
His business empire is built on a growing line of toys, endorsements, branded pyjamas and his own TV show on Nickelodeon.
But it started on YouTube.
And we should mention, Ryan Kaji is only 10 years old.
“Welcome to Ryan’s toy review!”Ryan’s World, YouTube
Ryan Kaji is one of the highest paid “child influencers” on the planet. He reviews toys, does DIY science experiments and sings songs.
All for his 31 million subscribers.
And Ryan Kaji is not alone. There are other child influencers. Loads of them.
Nastya, Ruby Rube and Little Gaby also have millions of subscribers and make similar content to Ryan Kaji .
Nastya’s net worth, for example, is estimated at £135 million.
“[Jingle] Like Nastya!”Like Nastya GB, YouTube
But who gets those fortunes? YouTube doesn’t allow underaged users to register on AdSense, or receive the income from earnings on videos.
Even if they are the star of the show.
This means their parents or guardian must step in, and take control of the cash. And for all child influencers, this is a potential issue.
In the UK, members of parliament have been investigating what they call “influencer culture”. They have questioned representatives from YouTube, Instagram, TikTok and Twitter about children, ads and abuse.
“Order, order, this is the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, and this is a hearing into social media influencers. Our first panel today, regarding social media influences will involve… we welcome Ian Bundred, Head of Public Policy UK and Ireland at YouTube…”Parliament Live TV
The MPs aren’t just concerned that children are at risk of exploitation.
That they might be working long hours, without compensation, and being denied opportunities, all to make their parents rich.
They are also concerned about the relationship between influencers and their audience. They are looking at the impact of abuse directed at influencers from the people that watch and comment on their videos.
And they’ve also been examining how influencers might get away with promoting products without ever disclosing that they are being paid to advertise them.
Back in 2019, Ryan Kaji’s channel was threatened with an investigation by the US Federal Trade Commission, for failing to say when he was advertising a product.
As a ten year old, it’s hard to argue that the responsibility lies with Ryan Kaji at all.
“Thank you but… just to drill down a bit there, because you set up the answer to the question but you didn’t actually answer the question. So what types of research do you do into the numbers, the diversity and the revenue streams coming to your creatives? We have a self-ID approach in the US, where we looked at… we don’t have a set of data on that right now.”Ian Bundred, Head of Public Policy UK and Ireland at YouTube
That’s Ian Bundred, Public Policy Head at YouTube, admitting that, in the UK, YouTube doesn’t know how many of their users are underaged.
It also doesn’t know how many of those underaged users are working as influencers.
“Child influencers are not covered by current legislation, that is the problem… and we are looking to the government to actually introduce something that does regulate this and does protect children because at the moment as far as I can see, they’re not protected in law.”Parliament Live TV
The exploitation of children isn’t the only reason that MPs are concerned about influencers.
And they aren’t just focusing on children.
The scale of the influencer industry is massive and it has quickly become a big part of our everyday lives.
Advertisers spent $13.8 billion on influencers last year, and the number of influencers worldwide has doubled since 2019, to as many as 37 million people.
Some serious questions are raised by this rapid growth, and big spending.
First, why are influencers receiving such huge amounts of abuse and harassment online? Second, do influencers in turn manipulate followers with undisclosed marketing deals? And third, how do regulators keep track of disposable, fast-moving content like stories and reels on platforms like Instagram?
The UK’s Technology Minister has admitted there is a gray area when it comes to regulation.
So, how to make it black and white?
One answer to all of this is the UK’s Online Safety Bill; a broad piece of legislation intended to keep people safe on the internet.
It is currently being scrutinised by parliament, so what it will eventually look like is a bit up in the air.
But Nadine Dorries, the UK’s digital, culture, media and sport secretary, just announced an updated version of the bill:
One that would make sending a communication with the intent of causing psychological harm or serious emotional distress an offence – which could carry a sentence of up to five years in prison.
This might help curb the abuse of influencers – and everyone else on the internet.
The platforms themselves would still be responsible for policing this law; and sharing information about what they’ve found…
But nothing has been agreed about how they would do that.
For Ryan Kaji and his family, who appear in videos together almost daily, playing with new toys, or at a waterpark, life looks fantastic.
“Bye! Don’t forget to subscribe. See you later, if you want more cooking videos by Ryan please subscribe, bye!”Ryan’s World, YouTube
His success has created an ideal that other children and their parents can aim for.
But the reality of how any of them will get there may not be so straightforward – or fantastic.
Today’s story was written by Luke Gbedemah and produced by Imy Harper.
Unforgotten: Syria’s war crimes
How the chief of a notorious Damascus torture unit was put on trial thousands of miles away, in a German courtroom