Let’s face it: short-form videos are here and dominating the world of digital marketing. With more than one billion monthly TikTok users, 2.35 billion monthly Instagram reel users, and two billion monthly YouTube Shorts users, it is no secret that short-form videos are what consumers are most interested in viewing in 2024.

But has the industry grown too fast for the ethical guidelines to catch up? How much is too much? As public relations professionals, what is our ethical duty to protect those posting and consuming digital media? How can we ensure the safety of the minors often shown in these posts? 

The short answer is we cannot.

The New York Times cited a study that found 32 million men following the 5,000 mom-run influencers reviewed. Meta, the owner of Instagram and Facebook, found that roughly 500,000 child accounts have what it deems “inappropriate” interactions every, single day. In 2022, Instagram launched a feature that allows users to subscribe to accounts for exclusive content, charging anywhere from $1 to $19.99. 

Although Meta platforms and TikTok are not allowed for those under 13, and the subscription feature on Instagram is only meant for those over 18, mom-run influencers can circumvent these restrictions. The main issue is that the mothers face a massive ethical dilemma. The follows, likes, and comments from male users help boost their profit and, in turn, theoretically benefit the entire family. However, there is a lot of speculation over who receives this money and how it is used.

Brands meant for children or families, like Kyte Baby, partner with these influencer accounts. But is that truly the best practice for these brands? It leaves one to wonder how well PR practitioners for brands like Kyte Baby vet the accounts before collaborating with them.

But how can parents ensure their children are safe? How can we ensure the content is being consumed with innocent intentions?

This is the cycle that family, child, and mommy influencers face on social media. Some mothers simply ignore the evidence that the content is not being consumed innocently. One mother, Jacquelyn Eleanor, faces the most backlash on TikTok over the content she shares of her four-year-old daughter, Wren. Jacquelyn frequently posts her child in suggestive poses with slightly lewd comments, resulting in more viewership and interactions.

On the other hand, some influencers have decreased the content depicting their child greatly or have removed their child’s face from the internet altogether. Maia Knight and the Daugh family are two influencer accounts that grew in popularity due to posts about their children, but they have since limited showing their children. Influencers like Isaac Rochell and Allison Kuch, who had a daughter last year, have decided never to show her face or any liking of her on social media.

While social media platforms have their own guidelines for who can use their services, it is obvious there are ways around them. Furthermore, since the industry has grown so quickly, no ethical guidelines have been set by the U.S. government to help protect children in social media posts. It is up to the parents to protect their children, but that does not always happen. 

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis recently signed the country’s most restrictive social media ban, prohibiting social media for children 13 and under and requiring parental consent for children 14 and 15. Communications professionals have also conducted extensive research on the effects and ethics of this industry.

As the child influencer industry grows and short-form videos continue to dominate, we all have an ethical duty to protect today’s children. PR practitioners, social media users, government officials, and parents all play vital roles in keeping children safe online.

Malia Elliott

Malia Elliott is a soon-to-be PR professional and current University of Alabama PR and communication studies student. Malia is a writer/editor for the college’s online PR magazine, Platform. Malia has a passion for digital marketing and influencing others through authenticity and visual storytelling. She will be returning to her hometown of Gulf Shores, Alabama upon graduation to work as a digital operations coordinator for Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism.

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