Children are a growing part of Instagram’s billion-dollar influencer industry. Take two-year-old twins Taytum and Oakley Fisher (@taytumandoakley), for example, who have 2.2 million followers and earn between $15,000 and $25,000 for a single post. Or Zooey Miyoshi (@zooeyandthecity), the sunglasses-wearing, Tokyo-and-L.A.-based six-year-old with a seemingly busy life of fashion photoshoots and paid partnerships.
What does it mean to have a child influencer on Instagram? As you might imagine, the parents of these little stars face their share of haters and critics. “They’re voluntarily exposing them to a digital world where their monetary value as an influencer is measured in likes and comments,” writes Katharine Schwab. As part of a Fast Company series on the Instagram Economy, Schwab reports on the rising kid stars of the platform, and the parents managing their content behind the scenes.
For young kids under the age of 13–Instagram’s minimum age requirement to open an account–this big business is largely the domain of their parents. Many of the parents I spoke to say their kids have either no awareness of Instagram, or think of it mostly as taking fun pictures with Mom. While some are too young to talk yet, I asked the parents of some of the older kids to ask them about their roles in this process. Mai Nguyen-Miyoshi, whose 6-year-old daughter Zooey has 146,000 followers on Instagram, described her response: “‘It feels great!!!’ And then she threw her arms up and out like she was going to give a big hug.” Jaqi Clements, the mother of 8-year-old twins Ava and Leah, whose account has 869,000 followers, described a recent conversation: “They actually got into the car a few weeks ago from school and said, ‘Mommy . . . are we famous? . . . One of our friends at school said we were.’”
But there are larger concerns for these Instagram parents. The internet has a dark side, one teeming with racists, sexists, pedophiles, and trolls. Nguyen-Miyoshi, mother of six-year-old Zooey, has personal experience dealing with trolls online. She worked in social media for 10 years, and during that time she posted a picture of two men who’d refused to give up their seats to pregnant women on Twitter. The post went viral, and Nguyen-Miyoshi had so many trolls come after her that she left the internet for a time.
The experience has made her hyper-conscious of what could happen to her daughter. Nguyen-Miyoshi doesn’t post any photos that she thinks could read as sexual. She combs through all of Zooey’s new followers every day and blocks any that look suspicious, like accounts with no profile picture that follow thousands of other users, or accounts of men who only post selfies. She blocks all negative comments. And along with not posting where Zooey goes to school, where they live, or where they’re hanging out, she has Zooey wear sunglasses in most of the photos she posts. Nguyen-Miyoshi says this is an anti-pedophile tactic. Many years ago, she says she read an article about how pedophiles mostly connect with children through their eyes, so she dresses Zooey with sunglasses as a means of circumventing it.
“To prevent that connection she always wears sunglasses,” Nguyen-Miyoshi says. “It helps prevent the creepy men.” The white sunglasses have become a core part of Zooey’s aesthetic.