WASHINGTON, D.C –In a letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chairman, Joseph Simons, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) urged the agency to take immediate, aggressive action against YouTube influencers who are deceptively and unfairly advertising to children as young as two years old through their content. Led by Blumenthal, the letter was also signed by U.S. Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and U.S. Representative Anna Eshoo (D- Calif.).
“The popularity of YouTube with children has created a new generation of child-directed “online influencers,” video channels starring kids and young adults who play, live their lives, and review toys with their friends and family for millions of viewers. What parents may not see is that many of these channels are little more than hidden advertisements for toymakers, movies, and fast food,” wrote Blumenthal.
As advertisers spend tens of thousands of dollars per paid post and video on popular YouTube channels, marketing to children by online influencers has become a booming field bringing in tens of millions in endorsements. Eager to exploit this new social media gold rush, many advertisers and sponsors have thrown basic ethics and the law out the window, disregarding even the minimal standards adopted to protect children.
A study by ad watchdog group, truthinadvertising.org (TINA.org) found that the popular “kidfluencer” YouTube channel Ryan ToysReview, who pulled in an estimated $22 million in earnings for 2018, referenced at least one product recommended for children under the age of five in nearly 90 percent of videos reviewed. While some videos did disclose a sponsorship, an overwhelming majority did not.
“Despite repeated attempts by the FTC to inform, warn, and persuade online influencers, so far little has changed to protect children and parents. Even prominent child-directed channels have ignored clear warnings and continue to flout the law. Without real action from the FTC, this manipulative behavior will continue,” Blumenthal added.
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