The rise of online influencers has exposed regulatory gaps which leave children at risk of exploitation and unacceptable compliance with advertising rules, a new report from MPs says.
A report from the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee on influencer culture has called on the Government to strengthen employment and advertising laws to protect children – both as viewers and influencers – and online performers.
In their recommendations, MPs say children, parents and schools must be given more support in developing media literacy and rules around advertising for children should also be bolstered, while updates to UK child labour regulations should be brought up to date to reflect the growth of child influencers.
It also calls for a code of conduct for influencer marketing to be commissioned.
In addition, the report urges the Government should conduct a study into the influencer ecosystem so it can be properly regulated as it grows as well as manage rules around pay standards and practice, and advertising regulators be given more power to enforce the law around advertising and close influencer loopholes.
“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.
“Child viewers, who are still developing digital literacy, are in particular danger in an environment where not everything is always as it seems, while there is a woeful lack of protection for young influencers who often spend long hours producing financially lucrative content at the direction of others.”
Mr Knight added that “inaction” had left regulations behind the times in a digital world, and that was particularly concerning when it came to the protection of children.
According to Ofcom data, in 2021 up to half of all children said they watched vlogger or YouTube influencer content.
The committee’s report said it had heard concerns during its inquiry that some children within the influencer economy were being used by parents and family members – who often manage their online accounts – who were seeking to capitalise on the lucrative online market.
“The explosion in influencer activity has left the authorities playing catch-up and exposed the impotence of advertising rules and employment protections designed for a time before social media was the all-encompassing behemoth it has become today,” Mr Knight said.
“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.”