With the rise of social media, the 2010s may be remembered as the decade of the influencer. Smartphones are loaded with many different and successful social media apps, which attract engagement from a large number of our population, who contribute to a culture that promotes the idolization of the rich and famous. Instagram, once just a personal photo-sharing app, has created its own contemporary tabloid. Now, the celebrities on the front cover, or the recommended page, are no more than attractive, wealthy individuals who have stumbled into the spotlight. Gone are the days of celebrities being singers, dancers and actors; the new generation of the “it crowd” is full of travel bloggers, Tik-Tok stars and YouTubers.
According to Forbes magazine, the highest-paid YouTuber is a 7-year-old boy named Ryan whose YouTube channel is called Ryan ToysReview, and debuted when Ryan was only 4 years old. Ryan made $22 million before taxes from June of 2017 to June of 2018 for his unboxing and toy and children’s food product reviews. He is now part of a TV show and has advertising deals with multiple major companies such as Walmart and Colgate.
Child stars are nothing new and have long been a topic of controversy. However, now in the era of rapid technological and cultural changes around how we consume media, there are more questions around the morality of how children like Ryan should deal with advertising. The channel Ryan ToysReview is now facing a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) complaint about the deceptive promotion of sponsored products in his videos. The FTC argues that Ryan’s page does not clearly disclose when videos are sponsored, thus deceiving his preschool audience who does not hold the ability to decipher between sponsored and non-sponsored videos.
Amidst these complaints, the question of whether or not it’s healthy or sustainable to form human beings into human advertisements and thrust what appears to be everyday, normal people into stardom due simply to their exposure on the internet must be asked.
Whenever I’m home for breaks from school, I work as a substitute teacher, most often at an elementary school. I like to ask the kids questions and get to know them as well as I can throughout the day, and often I’ll ask the question of what they want to be when they grow up; within the past year or two the answer has shifted away from the classic race car driver or doctor, to YouTuber. While there is merit in advocating for children to get interested in technology and in creative pursuits, we, as adults, must take the responsibility to remind children that as glamorous and coveted the lives of influencers and content creators might seem, there is a whole world for them to explore that does not necessarily mean becoming a walking billboard.