The issue with parents running their child's social media accounts

·6-min read

When Nicole Murdoch's children were young, they begged her not to share pictures of them to social media and she respected that wish.

It's not because she wasn't proud of her kids, but because her children were informed on privacy from as young as four and five-years-old and didn't want their images online.

Ms Murdoch, a partner at EAGLEGATE Lawyers, explained to Yahoo News Australia she made the decision early on to not share pictures of her kids until they could give their consent.

"We are at an age where there is an absolute conflict between the way we all operate on social media now and in sharing news and in publicising news between what is private and privacy laws," she said.

"We're in conflict between the way society actually operates and the need for privacy.”

These days social media feeds are inundated with doting parents sharing pictures of their children and, on the other end of the spectrum, parents turning their child a lucrative business.

Children can build careers on social media, all thanks to the help of their parents. Source: Getty Images, file/PA via AAP
Children can build careers on social media, all thanks to the help of their parents. Source: Getty Images, file/PA via AAP

In some cases, a career of being an influencer, or using social media as a means to promote a child's own business might be the child's decision.

But in some cases, it is the parent that is driving that business – not the child – and the parent is monetising the child as a business endeavour. In these cases the sharing of content goes beyond sharing a few photos for your family to see on Facebook.

Ms Murdoch said there are cases of parents being desperate for "likes" and attention and turning their child into a business model.

Launching a business on behalf of a child, where the child is the face of the business and the brand of the business is one thing, but taking that concept too far, to the point of harming the child is quite another thing, she added.

"Quite frankly some parents take the concept of promotion too far and they're actually harming the children," she said.

From family vlogging content on YouTube to young children having their own Instagram accounts run by their parents, whether you like it or not, can be ways to monetise a child's life.

While some parents will share images of their children on social media for friends and family, others will use their children for content and make money. Source: Getty Images, file
While some parents will share images of their children on social media for friends and family, others will use their children for content and make money. Source: Getty Images, file

The issue with consent

The issue of posting pictures of your children without consent to social media arose in 2019 when actress Gwyneth Paltrow shared a picture of her then-14-year-old daughter, Apple, to Instagram.

“Mom we have discussed this,” Apple wrote in the comments.

“You may not post anything without my consent."

Parents should consider the risks of posting pictures of their children online, and at the very least, their child should consent.

Ms Murdoch advises being honest with your child and having a discussion before plastering their face on social media and giving the child a choice.

"Every parent needs to have the privacy chat with their children and these discussions should be included in with overall privacy and security discussions," she said.

The trouble with kids making bank on social media

In 2022, being an influencer is a legitimate job and there is the potential for a lot of money to be made.

While Ms Murdoch acknowledges exploitation of children on social media is rare, a business like this could result in the child turning around one day and saying they don't want to do this anymore.

"Once the child comes of age I do believe consent will be an issue," she added, speaking on parents using their children on social media.

"Where it goes, I think, really depends on the individual situation."

It could become a bit of a legal "minefield", Ms Murdoch said, adding it would need to be established when it all started, who consented to what, what was being said and what happened.

"The biggest issue really is when the child says, 'Well, I don't want to do this anymore', and yet the parent sees the income that may be lost," Ms Murdoch said.

"The parent is conflicted in that they're a guardian and so they should be looking at what's best for the child, but in their minds, they are trying to run a business and want to push the business.

"What is best for the child and what is best for the business may be two totally separate things."

The issue of consent may arise, as children grow up and realise their parents were promoting them on social media. Source: Getty Images, file
The issue of consent may arise, as children grow up and realise their parents were promoting them on social media. Source: Getty Images, file

It becomes more complicated if the issue of copyright arises. Technically, the person who took the photo owns them unless something occurs to change ownership.

If money was being made through a parent-run social media page for a child, this could also raise issues in the future.

"If it is effectively the child that is the brand and the child’s business, then the money should go into a trust fund for the child," Ms Murdoch said.

"But often that's not happening and the funds are going to the parent."

Throughout Australia, there are different child labor laws in place, which prevent children from working more than a few hours a day, but the issue becomes more complicated when money is being made off a child's social media.

Child star's earnings squandered by parents

However, another issue that might arise is a child not actually seeing any money when they become of age, like Jackie Coogan.

Coogan was one of the first child stars after being discovered by Charlie Chaplin. He enjoyed a successful career in his youth but came of age only to discover his fortune had been squandered by his mother and step-father.

His legal battle resulted in the California Child Actor's Bill, sometimes referred to as the Coogan Law, and it outlines how much of the child's earnings must be put into a trust, along with working hours and schooling.

If children are generating money as the face of a social media account that is run by their parents, then the child should be compensated, Ms Murdoch said.

Parents should education their children on privacy issues on social media, so children can give informed consent. Source: Getty Images, file
Parents should education their children on privacy issues on social media, so children can give informed consent. Source: Getty Images, file

More can be done to protect children

Fortunately, Australia is headed in the right direction in terms of policy which should keep children safe online, Ms Murdoch said.

There's workplace anti-bullying laws and an Online Safety Act which is set to come into effect on 23 January 2022.

"Eventually, I'd like to see a broadening of the Online Safety Act," she said.

"I'd like to see a broadening of those acts to cover things that might not necessarily be serious threatening, intimidation, humiliation or harassment , but might be seen by a reasonable person as exploitation of the child."

The laws in place focus on what is public — the wholesome images one puts forward that leads one to think someone has the perfect life, not what is going on behind the scenes.

Essentially in the future, Ms Murdoch wants more legislation which focuses on consent from the child.

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