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Uh-Oh: My kid wants to be a “social media influencer”… What are the legal risks?

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“My 16 year old daughter announced that she and a friend were becoming ‘influencers’ on the internet. They spoke with a small local business that makes specialty dog ​​and cat food that we fed to our pets. company – and they want these girls to advertise it.

“How risky is that? “

“Risk?” replied Christy L. Foley, a lawyer based in Sanford, Florida. “It’s a lot riskier than most parents realize. A third of internet influencers are between the ages of 18 and 24, and we’re seeing more and more high school kids getting bitten by the virus and they want to get started. Few realize the legal consequences they face.

Foley is recognized as one of the country’s top experts in social media influencer law, and she conducts continuing education seminars for lawyers across the country. During our interview, she described some of the very real dangers that exist for influencers – and their families.

The first thing a parent should do “is to have a consultation with a business attorney, ideally familiar with Federal Trade Commission regulations on advertising, taxes and business insurance,” Foley points out. , explaining, “You need a suitable business entity, such as an LLC, something that offers protection for your family if something goes wrong later. “

Like a dog who gets sick from a bad batch of food? – Precisely, she replied.

Does this sound complicated to you?

“It does, but it is certainly doable with the right legal and accounting support. Without it, trouble awaits us, especially where parents are unaware their obligation to protect the child’s income, and following the requirements of Coogan’s laws, which several states have.

Named after 1930s child actor Jackie Coogan – who as an adult played Uncle Fester in The Adams family – a minimum of 15% of the winnings must be placed in a blocked account for the minor. Parents who steal their child’s income face civil and criminal penalties.

“What makes influencers successful is that they act like a normal person, putting on face cream, for example, and saying, ‘This works great for me.’ They may be related to the product, but because it is their own opinion and experience, they are safe and make no representations about the suitability of the product to anyone else.

“But if they say, ‘This will be wonderful for you’ or, in your reader’s case, ‘This dog food will be great for your pet,’ it’s an invitation to be sued if anything. is not going, ”she warns.

What if she got free dog food for her job?

“Expressing her opinion is one thing, but if there is a quid pro quo – if she gets something in exchange for her comments – this must be revealed at the beginning of the message because it is a chargeable endorsement. The FTC requires consumers to know that they are seeing an advertisement.

What if the influencer hasn’t actually used the product?

“FTC regulations state that you must have actually tried the product to approve it, and any approval must be true. What you post must be true at the time of posting. It can evolve, but must be truthful when displayed.

“You can’t lie about your approval,” Foley points out, and recommends a conversation covering these points parents need to have with their influencer kids:

  1. Honesty matters. The truth matters. There are consequences to being in front of the public. The internet never forgets, so if you lie someone will find out years from now when you apply for a job.
  2. Parents should stress that when you are an influencer, there will be negative comments. Teens are sensitive to comments on social media. Many have committed suicide after being bombarded with hurtful remarks. Parents should prepare their children for this and ask themselves, “Can our child cope with negative comments or bullying on social media?” “
  3. Realize that the more your child reveals about your life at home – the house itself, the furniture, the visible wealth – it can be an invitation for the bad guys to do harm. So if you allow your child to be an influencer, create a “safe space” that doesn’t reveal too much.

So what should a parent do? Encourage to become an influencer or not?

“It depends,” says Foley. “Factors include how informed are the parents about what the child is doing? How willing are you to take this risk? Can the child take on other responsibilities, such as school? There are simply a lot of “ifs”.

Foley’s website is christyfoley.com, and it’s a must read for any parent facing these issues.

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