A ‘glamorous’ childhood shaped under spotlight, online fame. But at what cost?

Child influencers are going viral online, but it comes along with cyber threats, trolling, exploitation and voyeurism.

WrittenBy:Gurmehar Kaur
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A ‘star kid’ born in the early days of the digital era, Janhvi Kapoor’s existence unfolded under the relentless clicks and flashes of paparazzi cameras. 

“I don’t recall any ‘first memory’ of being in public,” said the daughter of producer Boney Kapoor and late film star Sridevi. “It has always been a part of my life. The cameras have always been around. In our childhood, it was like we would go out. And people, with or without consent, took pictures of me and my sister.”

As Janhvi’s formative years coincided with the digital boom, her transition from child to teen to adult was not just catalogued. It was broadcast, shared and dissected in the sprawling, unforgiving amphitheatre of the internet. 

Janhvi was 10 years old when she first brushed with the effect of her internet presence. A student of Class 4, she entered her school’s computer lab one day to find paparazzi images of her on Yahoo’s homepage, flashing across the computer screens of her classmates. She told Newslaundry she looked “very uncomfortable” and not “groomed” in the photos, even as the headlines announced she was “being launched” in the film industry.

“It didn’t make me popular,” Janhvi, now 26, said. Instead, it “alienated” her from her peers in school. 

“I don’t think they understood it so they started disliking me. I didn’t understand what was happening,” she said. “My friends looked at me differently, they poked fun at me for not getting waxed.”

Meanwhile, her teachers “changed” towards her. 

“Many insinuated that I don’t have to work as I was famous anyway, weird taunts that I wouldn’t understand,” she said. “...Everyone kept asking me when I was leaving school and why I was on Yahoo. There was a lot of judgement, a lot of questioning of one’s self-worth from a very young age.”

But things only got worse. When Janhvi was a teenager, she found morphed photos of herself on “inappropriate, almost pornographic pages”. She told Newslaundry there’s been an “influx of fake images, more so with today’s advanced AI”.

“People see these manipulated images and assume they’re real,” she said. “That deeply concerns me.”

These concerns extend beyond Bollywood culture. Fame isn’t reserved for the privileged few, but potentially anyone with a smartphone and basic knowledge of editing. With the emergence of video-streaming platforms like TikTok and Instagram, and the isolation of the pandemic years, digital topography has been reshaped, carving out a new, emerging class of influencers. 

In this digital milieu, more and more children are commanding audiences, often eclipsing even seasoned celebrities. Even though regulations stipulate 13 years as the age threshold for social media presence, an increasing number of parents are spotlighting their children in the realm of ‘kidfluencers’, managing their profiles and making them famous.

But this comes at a cost – relentless scrutiny, cyber threats, and the risk of exploitation. Meanwhile, these kidfluencers remain outside the ambit of law.

Blurring lines between opportunity and exploitation 

Child influencers can earn through privately sponsored content and platforms’ content monetisation policies. But they’re outside child labour laws in India which encompass traditional child artists, such as child actors. 

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