Child Exploitation, Social Media, And "Kidfluencers"

The mother of Piper Rockelle, a YouTube "star", is facing claims of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse of 11 teen content creators who were featured on her daughter's channel. The plaintiffs filed the lawsuit in January 2022.

Plaintiffs allege Tiffany Smith – the mother of Piper Rockelle - "intentionally inflicted emotional distress while she held a position of 'care and control' over the [plaintiffs] in the production of content for Rockelle's YouTube channel." The teens further allege they had to endure physical and emotional injuries from "harassment, molestation, and abuse." They also claim they were not compensated for the use of their likenesses to promote Rockelle's content.

All of the plaintiffs were a part of 15-year-old Piper Rockelle's "Piper Squad." They were featured on her YouTube channel, which has more than 10 million subscribers.

The plaintiffs also claim that despite their age, they were instructed to stage romantic "crushes" on each other, meant to fool the young audiences.

According to the former "Squad" members' mothers, the dynamics of the "Squad" and romantic storylines have led to issues like online bullying and harassment of their children.

The mothers say Smith left their children reeling from trauma.

Smith countersued for $30 million and accused the plaintiff's mothers of conspiring to extort money by making false sexual abuse allegations. However, Smith voluntarily dismissed those claims before the mothers' legal counsel responded to them.

In a December 2022 interview, Smith said she did not consider herself the plaintiffs' employer at the time they filmed videos with Rockelle. She said she has now acquired a permit to work with minors.

According to the plaintiffs, Smith was a "mean-spirited control freak." They alleged "she made comments about children's genitalia, shouted obscene and sexually graphic remarks at them, encouraged them to be 'sexy' and 'sexually aggressive' in videos, and inappropriately touched the children on their legs, thighs, and buttocks." One plaintiff also alleged Smith told her she was mailing Rochelle's underwear to a man who liked to "sniff" it.

The mother of one of the plaintiffs said when the teens were younger, they didn't understand what was happening to them but now that they're older, they started to understand the trauma that was caused by the abuse and the fake crushes.

Nine of the plaintiffs also alleged that Smith and her boyfriend, Hunter Hill, who the complaint identifies as the director and editor of Rockelle's YouTube channel, "sabotaged" their YouTube channels after they left the "Squad" by falsely flagging their content as inappropriate. They also embedded their content on pornographic websites so they would be "deemed 'restricted'" by YouTube. The nine plaintiffs claim Smith and Hill owe them at least two million dollars in lost earnings from YouTube.

Attorneys representing the plaintiffs said they hope to get their clients compensated for their work and for the turmoil the kids experienced after joining the "Squad."

YouTube does not take responsibility for the offscreen conduct of its creators. The teen content creators are each asking for roughly two million in damages, totaling at least $22 million.

Kat Tenbarge and Kalhan Rosenblatt "A YouTube stage mom faces abuse allegations from 11 teens in court case" (Apr. 17, 2023).

Commentary and Checklist

Children with large social media followings are also known as "kidfluencers."

According to reports, these highly "successful" children generate up to $26 million a year through advertising and the sharing of sponsored content. According to a study, kidfluencers generated 48.2 billion views and 38.6 million subscribers across more than 10,000 videos posted to YouTube. The most successful kidfluencers earn upwards of $29 million.

In the case of the kidfluencers in the source article, one outcome that some advocates would like to see is for states to reexamine or enact legislation that pertains to child performers, such as California's Coogan Law.

The Coogan Law, also known as the California Child Actor's Bill, is a child protection law that requires a percentage of a child actor's earnings to be placed into a trust that they will be able to access once they turn 18. This also applies to children who model and do voice work.

The Coogan Law establishes that earnings by minors in the entertainment industry are the property of the minor, not their parents.

The plaintiffs and experts are hoping that this law would be adjusted to include children who make content on social media regardless of whether they're under contract or belong to a guild like SAG.

The content creation industry is highly unregulated, and poses abuse and exploitation threats to children.

What other signs of exploitation should safe adults report?

Parents or caregivers find child pornography or links to sexual websites on a child's computer.

The child devotes long periods of time online - especially at night; makes calls to people parents or caregivers don't know; or gets phone calls, gifts, or money from unfamiliar people.

When a parent or caregiver comes into the room, the child turns off the computer monitor or quickly changes the screen.

The child is using multiple online accounts or someone else's online account.

The child withdraws from the family; displays secretive behavior; has sexual knowledge beyond is or her years.

The child reports participating in or being shown child pornography; reports phishing, spam, emails, and/or asking for personal information

The child receives email offering pharmaceuticals or sex.

The child's computer or other mobile device is infected with malware.

The child reports threatening emails; bullying texts, posts, emails, and chats.

The child inexplicably stops using the computer; refuses to go online; appears nervous or scared when receiving an instant message, text message, or email.

The child is angry, upset, or depressed after using the computer.

Parents or caregivers find a cell phone they do not recognize, or they have charges on credits cards they did not make.




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