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How one teen is urging legislators in Washington state to help protect kids from being exploited on vlogs

State legislators held a public hearing about a bill that would protect "the interests of minor children featured on for-profit family vlogs."

A Washington state teenager is advocating for a bill to protect the privacy of the children of influencers.

Chris McCarty, 18, a freshman at the University of Washington, said they wanted to advocate for children’s right to privacy online after having learned about influencer Myka Stauffer, who shared extensive, intimate content about her adopted son before she relinquished custody because of his medical needs.

McCarty, who uses they/them pronouns, started the site Quit Clicking Kids to spread awareness and urge fellow advocates to take action in their own states. When they were a senior in high school last year, they cold-emailed multiple state legislators and eventually worked with state Rep. Emily Wicks to craft HB 2023, which was re-introduced as HB 1627 for this year’s legislative session. 

HB 1627, which the House Civil Rights and Judiciary Committee discussed at a public hearing Tuesday, would protect the “interests of minor children featured on for-profit family vlogs” by requiring the parents of child influencers to set aside part of the revenue from their content for separate funds their children could access when they reach adulthood. The law would affect only creators whose content generates at least 10 cents per view and features their children in at least 30% of their paid content. 

It would also grant children of influencers the right to request the permanent deletion of their likenesses, names or photos from “any internet platform or network that provided compensation to the individual’s parent or parents in exchange for that content.” Platforms must take “all reasonable steps” to permanently delete video segments of such children. 

The bill is one of the first pieces of legislation specifically for children who are posted online without their consent. It follows a growing movement of creators who are removing their children from their content to protect their privacy, as well as calls to end “sharenting,” which is the widely criticized practice of parents’ oversharing photos, videos and details of their children’s lives online. 

The bill is scheduled for discussion at the House committee’s executive session Thursday.

A co-sponsor, Kristine Reeves, emphasized the importance of centering children’s privacy at the hearing. 

“The reality is our kids don’t always get a choice, though, in how they’re included in an online profile," she said. "What the bill before you really does, the problem that we are trying to solve here, is making sure that we are centering our children’s rights in how they get to own their presence online." 

McCarty said relying on tech companies to “do the right thing” and protect children’s privacy isn’t enough — legislation would enforce it. 

“In an ideal world, that would be the way to go. But I think in a lot of cases, tech companies need that extra pressure,” they said. “Family vlogging channels are one of the most popular content channels out there. And I really think that waiting any longer is not a good way to go about this, because in the meantime, you have all these kids who are losing their privacy, losing the ability to make mistakes in a judgment-free environment.” 

Cam, a TikTok creator known as softscorpio who advocates for children’s right to online privacy, testified at the hearing, which was broadcast online.

They previously spoke to NBC News about how their mother’s social media habits, which revolved around posting about them, affects them today. Cam wanted to be referred to only by their first name out of concern for their privacy because of their mother’s previous social media presence. 

“If you Google my legal name, my full legal name, photos of me as a child pop up. The first thing that pops up is photos of me as a child in bikinis,” Cam said before of the hearing. “Once those images are on there, things that are on the internet are on the internet forever.”

A lot of people that I’ve seen online think that it’s about the money ... like the kid had a great life, the kid gets all of these toys, all of these clothes. Those things can be fun, but it’s at the risk of losing the privacy to your childhood.

-Cam, a TikTok creator known as softscorpio who advocates for children’s right to online privacy

The first part of the bill, which would require parents to compensate their children for the monetized content they appear in, is similar to state laws that require the parents of child actors to set aside money their children can access once they turn 18. California’s Coogan Law, for example, ensures that 15% of a child actor’s earnings are set aside in a locked trust known as a Coogan Account. 

But Cam said HB 1627 is about more than just money. They emphasized the importance of the second part of the bill, which would grant people the right to permanently wipe content from their childhoods from social media. 

“A lot of people that I’ve seen online think that it’s about the money ... like the kid had a great life, the kid gets all of these toys, all of these clothes,” they said. “Those things can be fun, but it’s at the risk of losing the privacy to your childhood.” 

Although some services may be able to scrub a person’s likeness off of social media and out of search engine results, they’re costly and limited. For most, McCarty said, “a digital footprint follows you around for life.” 

“And that includes anything that your parents decide to put on their vlog,” they continued. “It could be mental health issues that you struggle with as a teenager. It could be your first period or you’re not potty training as a kid. It could be problems that you’re having with the school bully. And those are all examples of things that have shown up online and really shouldn’t be shared, and certainly things that shouldn’t be profited off of.” 

McCarty urged advocates for child safety to work with their local legislators to craft similar legislation in other states. The Quit Clicking Kids website includes state-specific email templates to reach out to legislators, and McCarty has hosted webinars for taking action. 

Many people, McCarty said, may not see “sharenting” as a major concern, but they said they worry that it will become worse. 

“The goal is to raise awareness before it reaches that point, before we have a lot of children growing up on family vlogs realize what was done to them and start sharing their story,” McCarty said. “Really, the ideal is to be leaders in tech policy and say, ‘No, we want to stop this,’ before it happens and think proactively.”