Social & Influencers

How one college student is fighting for the rights of child influencers

Chris McCarty, founder and executive director of Quit Clicking Kids, has worked with legislators in Illinois and Washington State—and is now looking at the federal level.
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Francis Scialabba

· 7 min read

From Grey and Mama to Food Baby to the LaBrants, there’s no shortage of content on the internet that documents kids trying foods, playing sports, and growing up.

But family vlogging isn’t always wholesome. It can create risks for the children involved, including attention from stalkers and pedophiles, as well as exploitation and abuse from adults who run the channels. What’s more, kidfluencers have few legal protections—but that could be starting to change.

Chris McCarty, 19, said they were inspired to speak out on behalf of child influencers after reading about the Stauffers, a YouTuber family who adopted an autistic toddler from China and featured him in video content before “rehoming” him.

“I wanted to do a little bit more of a deep dive into other influencer families to see if others were using their kids to generate interest and therefore revenue in their channel—and it turns out that they are,” they said.

In their senior year of high school in 2021, McCarty started Quit Clicking Kids, which aims to stop the exploitation and monetization of minors on social media through awareness and legislation. Since then, they have worked with lawmakers in Washington State and Illinois on legislation that would ensure financial compensation and protections for children used in online content.

Last month, Illinois passed a law that requires parents to set aside earnings for children under the age of 16 if they appear in or are discussed in video posts. Money must be placed in a trust fund for the child to access once they turn 18.

We spoke with McCarty about the work they’ve done to date as the sole operator of QCK, their recent legislative victory in Illinois, and where the movement to protect child influencers goes from here.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

First off, kudos for starting an organization in high school—that’s a big undertaking. What was it like forming Quit Clicking Kids?

It was definitely hard because this is a space that, in my opinion, not enough people are talking about yet because social media as a concept is so new and influencing as an industry is also very new. Getting people to see that this is an important issue is difficult, but I think, largely, that the organization has helped people realize that this is a serious and widespread problem. It’s not just some families that are doing it, it’s a lot of larger monetized family accounts that are using their kids pretty consistently for interest and for clicks, and sometimes for sponsorship deals and product placements.

You’re now at the University of Washington. How have you balanced this advocacy work with being a full-time student?

It’s definitely been hard work balancing both of those things, but I think it’s worthwhile because I think the point of college is to prepare you for what you want to do later in life.

Has [Quit Clicking Kids] influenced what you've decided to study or the classes you're taking?

Actually, it’s the other way around. I’ve been interested in public policy for a long time, and when I read about [the Stauffers], I realized that there were no regulations in place to protect children on monetized family channels. So I said, “Well, I like public policy. Here’s an issue where public policy doesn’t go far enough. And I’m going to try to change that.”

You testified this year before state lawmakers in support of Washington State House Bill 1627 and Illinois Senate Bill 1782. What was that process like for you?

I think it always helps to see a face to go with the story to say, “Hey, this is why this is important. I need you to pay attention to this right now.” Both were really powerful experiences because it brings something to the legislation that legalese, unfortunately, does not…In Washington, I actually helped draft the bill. I cold-called and cold-emailed the Washington State legislators. And I was like, “I have this idea for a policy concept. Here’s the issue. Here’s what I think a solution could look like.” [One representative] got back to me and said, “Yes, this sounds like a really pressing issue. Let’s put something together.”...That’s the bill that got introduced as House Bill 1627, and that’s largely the same bill that Illinois adapted for their legislature. So it’s great to see that same legislation, that same framework playing out across different states.

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Both states’ bills have been compared to California’s Coogan Law, which ensures kids working in the entertainment industry receive at least 15% of their earnings. Was that a source of inspiration?

I think Coogan Laws were absolutely a starting point. But I will say that a really big difference is that child actors are portraying a story rather than real life. And so with child vlog stars, a lot of the time, not only do they have the long hours and the multiple takes and all the sometimes wanted or unwanted fame and popularity, they’re also having very real, very intimate details about their real lives shared online in a way that child actors didn’t previously.

Something that was removed from the final bill in Illinois was the right to erase one’s likeness from the internet. What was your reaction to that, and is that something you feel is essential?

Yeah, that was a hard blow. I’m obviously grateful that the compensation part remains in the Illinois bill, but unfortunately, the privacy protections are no longer there…I think it absolutely is essential because children at the age when they’re featured in these family channels cannot consent. A lot of the time, when they have stories about bullying or their mental health issues or their physical health diagnoses or their first periods shared online, all of that is information that classmates, teachers, potential bosses can find in a quick Google search. I think that creates a problem. I think children deserve to have the right to say, “I don’t want this out there anymore. This is impacting me. Please remove it.”

Are you hopeful additional privacy protections will one day pass in Illinois? On the same note, are you hopeful the Washington State bill will pass?

I’m cautiously optimistic. I know that part of the reason that the privacy protection was taken out [of the Illinois bill] is because that part of the bill puts the onus on tech companies to remove the videos when a minor requests it, and I think any additional regulations or burden for the tech companies, they’re probably going to lobby pretty strongly against.

[In Washington], we’re hopeful that we can come up with something that’s more of a meet in the middle rather than eliminating that provision entirely.

Do you see momentum building in any other states?

Yeah, there are quite a few other states that have gotten in contact. It’s a slow process as they adapt the language to their own states…but there’s definitely been interest, and that’s so great to see.

What are your goals for the next year?

The goal for me, eventually, is to make federal legislation happen.

In the meantime, do you feel like there is an onus on advertisers to cut ties with people who are posting content involving children?

I know that’s happened in a few cases if an influencer has done something the brand doesn’t want to be associated with, but I think it will be a long time before advertisers make a clean cut with family influencers.

Anything else that you think people need to consider?

I do think a lot of people have this idea that children working in a family vlog is not work because they do fun things…But if you get a sponsored trip to Disneyland with the stipulation that you have to show your children being happy on Disneyland rides or eating Disneyland food, then I think that’s no longer a vacation. If it’s something for the channel, it’s work.

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