The Current

Leave Lil Tay alone, tech writer says of controversial YouTube child star

Social media is generating a new breed of child stars and critics argue young YouTube personalities need to be protected from exploitation. But tech writer Alexandra Samuel argues there's no difference between putting your kid on YouTube versus on the ice to play hockey.

Alexandra Samuel compares parents putting their kids on YouTube to pushing hockey

Lil Tay is often seen flashing money, posing on luxury cars and boasting about living an expensive lifestyle. (Lil Tay/Instagram)

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A potty-mouthed nine-year-old rapper known as Lil Tay has quickly become one of the most controversial rising stars of the internet.

Her antics have garnered fierce criticism, with some questioning her family's role in crafting and promoting her provocative, polarizing persona.

But tech writer Alexandra Samuel argues that putting your kid on YouTube isn't much different from taking them outside for hours-long practice sessions at the hockey rink.

"If you look at a parent who has their kids spending 20 hours a week at a hockey rink in the hope they're going to be the next big NHL star, there may not be cash changing hands today but that isn't necessarily any less exploitative or pushy or damaging to the kid than something like this," Samuel, who is also an independent researcher and author of Work Smarter with Social Media, told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

Lil Tay has 2.3 million Instagram followers, and more than 200,000 YouTube subscribers. Some of her videos have been viewed more than nine million times. Her posts show her waving wads of cash in front of expensive cars, bragging about how rich she is and how her outfits cost "more than your mama's rent."

It's not clear who is doing the filming for Lil Tay's videos or if she is coached on what to say. (Lil Tay/Instagram)

Samuel argued that the controversy surrounding the young star and her family is largely based on assumption with no real context. 

"I'm a lot more concerned, frankly, about the negative impact of the judgment and the infighting than I am about some 9-year-old who wants to swear a lot on YouTube," she told Tremonti.

"We're acting like this this child on YouTube is some new phenomenon. But who hasn't been at the awkward dinner party where the parent is insisting the child play piano, or perform a song, or do a little dance even though the kid obviously doesn't want to?"

Treat young YouTubers like child actors, says advocate

Jesse Miller argued that the key difference between Samuel's examples and performing online is that the latter brings the promise of fame and money — and that presents a significant problem.

Miller is the founder of Mediated Reality, a company that works to educate people about social media influences.  

He argued that young internet stars should be subject to regulation similar to those applied to child actors.

"A child in Canada should have access to oversight for their working conditions and to safety," Miller said.

"This appears to be more the brother and the mother [of Lil Tay] trying to raise her profile. We would all hope that children would be able to have a very normal, everyday existence — except for this child who has two million followers on Instagram."

Miller explained child TV stars are provided with oversight committees and people on set to protect their rights. Their scripts are also assessed to oversee content.

"I do think there's somewhat of an onus to start to develop an oversight body within social media sharing where we do have more advocacy groups looking for the benefit of child participation online," he said.

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this page.

This segment was produced by The Current's Willow Smith and Ines Colabrese.


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