International Perspectives – Kid Influencers for social justice: playing at “being empowered.”

Written by Ines Vitorino Sampaio

When researching kid influencers on Instagram, the profile @ayomizuhri caught my attention. I saw a smiling and confident girl, dressed in a white robe, a yellow satin turban, and shiny golden necklaces. Looking into the camera, she said: 

“Hi, my name is Ayomí Zouhri. I live here in Pelourinho.  I am a dancer and singer. I am 6 years old and will turn 7 this month. I love to dance and sing. I have been a dancer since I was very small, since the time I joined the Black Beauty carnival group. It is very important for me to be a part of the Ibrê..Ibéji group, representing Black children, so they can be empowered and like to be who they are.”

Her parents, also influencers, are probably responsible for the text that presents her as per the image below. Despite her young age, her profile on February 31 this year records 906 posts, 10 thousand followers, and has already reached 53,4 thousand views on her most popular video

An excerpt from @ayomizhuri’s Instagram bio

There, she sings the song “I am the voice of black resistance”, and gracefully dances wearing colorful and exuberant Afro-Brazilian costumes. The part sung by the girl is the lightest of the sound that denounces racism and violence against blacks and LGBTQI+ people in Brazil. The child´s voice and broad smile soften the harshness of the topics. The same happens in another video where she addresses religious intolerance, saying:  “Love is the basis of all religions. If you don’t agree with another person’s religion, at least respect them! After all, religious intolerance is a crime”.

In their social media profiles, she and her parents value their black identity, celebrating the beauty of black bodies, aesthetics, rhythms, and rights. On the girl´s profile, the raised fist gesture, performed amidst speeches and dances, pays homage to historical figures in the fight against racism.

These images are also mixed with others, in tune with pop culture, where the girl appears at celebratory events such as Christmas and Carnival dressed as mini-Mrs. Claus, Wonder Woman, Barbie, etc. Thus, blending reality and fantasy, she inserts herself into the country´s consumption and political circuit, occasionally associating with global, national, and local brands and products. Thereby, she contributes to moving a solidarity economy, whose advertisers are, in some cases, family members of her community, with all contradictions in between.  

Maybe by promoting this political agenda, she is not among the most popular influencers in the country, whose images are usually linked to the consumption and celebrity’s universe, with millions of followers, like @mariasbaby profile. Nevertheless, she draws attention on social media for promoting social justice, i.e.  “promoting a just society by challenging injustice and valuing diversity.”

This way, she and other kid influencers assume an important role in promoting rights in the public sphere, especially in the fight against racism. They express in speeches, gestures, clothing, music, dance, etc., their connections with their communities of belonging, their joys, and pains. They play at being citizens while learning to be them.

And that’s precisely why this participation interests us.

Participation as a human right

Children’s participation is a right established by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, even though this is not a reality for millions of them. This right also applies to the digital environment, as recognized by General Comment No. 25, approved in 2021. The document highlights that “meaningful access to digital technologies can support children to realize the full range of their civil, political, cultural, economic, and social rights.”

Should we then simply celebrate this growing participation of children on social media, including as influencers? Should they be encouraged to actively participate in social media and to exercise this influential role over their audiences?

Academic studies have been cautious in dealing with this issue, signaling the presence of opportunities and risks in the use of social media by children and adolescents. This implies treating the right to participation in correlation with the evolving capacities of children and considering the general principles of “non-discrimination”, “best interests of the child”, “right to live, survival and development” and “respect for the view of the children”. Ultimately, as proposed by the Manifesto for a Better Children’s Internet: “To move towards a better Children’s Internet we need to acknowledge and recognize the contributions made by children and their families to the construction of the Children’s Internet.”

Citizenship players

Our research, which monitors various cases of child influencers in Brazil, some of them focusing on social justice like the one cited above, draws attention to the following aspects to be considered in line with these understandings and principles:

Being or becoming an influencer is a desire of countless children. Therefore, they need to be heard, considered in their uniqueness as children, and exercise their participation in a safe and welcoming digital environment.

By playing on social networks and addressing the agenda of social justice, children express themselves about their experiences, concerns, interests, and dreams; they connect with their communities of belonging, learning about their history and traditions; they learn to exercise their citizenship, representing their communities and contributing to changing their reality.

They are also involved in a commercial logic that tends to associate them with products and brands, with significant implications to the constitution of their cultural repertoire and that of their audience. In this process, the principle of the best interests of the child often tends to be overridden by that of companies, including digital platforms with their content boosting and data collection policies.

In this circuit, we face the challenge of recognizing children’s right to participation, valuing their engagement for social justice. By doing so, it is equally crucial to ensure that family and community support children but are also critical regarding the possibilities of child commercial exploitation. This demands a media literacy policy for both. Furthermore, it is decisive that society and the State address the issue of regulating platforms.

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