If you are still trying to wrap your head around the concept of influencers, get ready to have your mind blown as I tell you about the sub-class of kidfluencers. These are young children, many of whom have not even reached double-digit ages, who are producing content on social media across a wide variety of genres. Cooking, entertainment, fashion, art, singing, mimicry. Cheered on and managed by their momagers, these tiny tots are finding big space in the digital landscape.
The likes, comments and shares on videos of kids dancing to expletive-ridden songs hot on trends tell the story of just how popular such content is. Among the audience, there are an abundant amount of takers for children performing for the camera it seems. The approval for these girls and boys playing pretend adulthood is soaring. And this reality is both sad and disturbing.
A young girl recently mouthed a viral dialogue from the upcoming Alia Bhatt-starrer Gangubai Kathiawadi. Bhatt, in the shoes of a brothel madam from Kamathipura, assumes a menacing persona, with a beedi to complete the look – something the kidfluencer, who is somewhat of an Instagram star, imitates rather uncannily. More here.
The presence of children on social media by itself is a questionable practice. To have them additionally perform antics for the purpose of audience pleasure carries an altogether perverted quality. It also raises questions about child safety.
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Naturally, these underage children are not acting of their own volition. Adult backing is what is shaping these ‘careers’ they have been pushed along into ridiculously early in their lives. So one is obliged to ask: What is this if not blatant exploitation of children? Can we entirely toss the concept of consent out of the window when the dynamic is that of a parent and child?
In the absence of these kidfluencers’ mental faculties to decide for themselves, should parents take the step of puppeteering them for fame and other gains?
Most social media channels have age restrictions (however unsuccessfully built) to filter out the underage population. This is because it is understood that the digital safety of minors is no joke. All manners of corrupt practices run wild on the internet – morphing, trafficking, bullying, doxxing, abuse. Is it wise to let children as young as five or six confront them?
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Kidfluencers And The Loss Of Childhood
How much and what kind of social media space children occupy is the discretion of their parents. But so is the complete safety of these little people who aren’t yet equipped to estimate digital dangers. Are parents comfortable letting the world on into sensitive information about their kids, such as where they live or where they enjoy outdoors?
I have no kids but can think of a hundred things that could go horribly wrong if kidfluencers are so totally exposed to strangers online and by extension, offline as well.
We see two radically opposite ends of child privacy and digital exposure materialising today. One is made up by parents like celebrity couple Virat Kohli and Anushka Sharma who have hammered away at requests for their toddler daughter to be kept out of the public eye. Then at the other end are parents who are liberally monetising their kids by pushing them into the limelight.
Is there a right or wrong angle to these choices? Who decides what is ethically appropriate?
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While safety is the prime concern, that is not all. Parents are bedecking their children with heavy makeup or having them prance around in sexualised clothing. It was especially unsettling to see several such kidfluencers, both established and aspiring, repeat sexually charged lyrics of Touch It by Busta Rhymes when the song was all the rage on Instagram reels last year.
Regardless of how prudishly cliched it sounds, should children be made to grow up so fast? Should their parents’ interests be burdened onto them at an age when they would rather be playing with a dollhouse or reading a storybook? This is not only an outcome of the digital culture. Dance reality shows targeted at the underage population for years have legitimised child ‘artists’.
Are these children really ‘artists’ who are getting opportunities of a lifetime by generously being set on the road to bright futures? In a time when they should be free of financial cares, unsuspecting kidfluencers are being burdened with the responsibility of pulling in easy money that will go into their parents’ pockets.
A chubby baby with a ladle in his hand, helping around the kitchen, might be a cute sight. Cute enough for us to completely ignore the video we are watching is a promotional one and the poor baby is being made to indirectly perform for money.
Views expressed are the author’s own.