Millennial influencers who are the new stars of web advertising

Beauty vloggers and cult celebrities are being courted by luxury brands

Seven years ago, Chiara Ferragni was a fledgling 23-year-old fashion blogger, studying law at university in Milan. She never finished her degree, but now lives in a $3.5m Los Angeles mansion packed with antiques, and spends her days travelling the world in midriff-revealing tops, Gucci sweatshirts, cut-off jeans and a collection of Louis Vuitton. How do we know this?

Every day, the Blonde Salad shares images of her gilded lifestyle with her 9.6 million followers on Instagram, making her one of the cult celebrities of the social media world. Unlike Taylor Swift, Beyonc et al, who have all made their names elsewhere and maintain fanbases on the photo-sharing platform, Ferragni has found fame and fortune solely by publishing photographs of herself wearing a variety of designer ensembles in a range of glamorous locations. Now worth a reputed $12m, with a line of branded shoes selling at up to $500 a pair, and a contract with Pantene as a global ambassador, Ferragni is a role model to a generation of digital natives who have established a viable career as social media influencers.

On her 30th birthday earlier this month, her boyfriend, Italian rapper Fedez, proposed on stage in Verona, singing a song dedicated to her at a concert broadcast live to their home nation. Almost one million fans liked the Instagram video of the moment. That same day, almost half a million clicked the heart symbol below an image of her in a black mini dress, featuring the hashtag #ysl, while 700,000 followers liked another image Ferragni shared, showing her next to a vast 30th birthday cake emblazoned with the Leading Hotels of the World logo, with the hashtags #leadinghotelsoftheworld, #LHWtraveler and #kempinskivenice.

To those unfamiliar with the machinations of social media, it is highly likely Ferragni had a commercial arrangement with these luxury brands, keen to tap into an audience that wants to emulate her lifestyle. She is not alone in utilising her position as a social media star with a loyal and highly engaged following.

Earlier this month, 17-year-old Amanda Steele shared images of herself on the red carpet at the Cannes film festival, hanging out with Hollywood A-listers Jake Gyllenhaal and Tilda Swinton. The YouTube beauty vlogger, who shares make-up tips under the MakeupbyMandy24 handle, was flown out to the French Riviera, dressed and made up, and given tickets to the premiere of Okja courtesy of Christian Dior all in return for a caption shared with her 2.8 million followers that read: Thank you sooooo much @diormakeup for treating me like a princess!!

In just a few years, the power of blogs and platforms such as Instagram has created a new marketing genre that has seen brands investing heavily in collaborations with the big names in the online space. Beca Alexander, founder and president of the social media casting and management agency Socialyte Collective, represents about 100 influencers, each with between 30,000 and 2 million followers.

One of our top influencers did about $1m last year and the average for those on our books is around $200,000 a year, says the digital entrepreneur from her New York office.

Chiara Ferragni on Instagram. Photograph: Chiara Ferragni/Instagram

There are a variety of ways they earn that revenue and we work on strategies that best suit the individual style and audience of each one. Some might focus on promoting as many brands and products as possible but always being aware of the natural synergy with their own brand, so it feels authentic while others have contracts with a curated range of brands to work on exclusive long-term campaigns.

Alexander, a former fashion news blogger who takes 10% commission from her portfolio of clients, founded her business seven years ago and has seen double-digit annual growth and a predicted 2.5 times rise in turnover this year. While women dominate the influencer space, she has also established a reputation for nurturing a number of male stars, such as her most successful client, Adam Gallagher, whose elegant, well-travelled lifestyle has won him a lucrative long-term contract with Armani fragrance.

When you get to the top tier of influencers, they go to great lengths to portray the perfect image online, often recruiting a retinue of still-life and style photographers, make-up artists, stylists, assistants and editors to support the burgeoning business of being a brand in their own right. Many have a signature style to their posts, using specific filters or a trademark pose, but the key, says Alexander, is to remember who your audience is and retain an authenticity that means they remain engaged with your output.

And you dont have to have a mega-following to earn money from social media: companies are spending up to $1.5bn on Instagram marketing, says Thomas Rankin of Dash Hudson, who matches influencers with brands. Even users with 5,000 followers can attract $250 for a product post or endorsement if they have the right audience.

Alexander developed a programme two years ago known as product bombing, whereby a co-ordinated campaign saw numerous, carefully selected micro-influencers paid to talk about a new product at a specified time, thus saturating the social media space within the target demographic. That worked really well, and created huge awareness and demand, seeing stock sellout rapidly, she says.

However, the speed of change within the tech world and the evolution of algorithms to change the user experience means this approach isnt as effective today. Instagram has recently changed the way consumers see posts, from a simple chronological feed, guaranteeing a user would see all posts in the order they appear, to a more nebulous feed based on the users individual engagement with those they follow.

Currently worth around $1.5m, Julia Engels pastel-tinted Gal meets glam feed is brimming with high fashion and has 1.1 million subscribers. She generates revenue using the popular app, which sends followers direct to websites selling the clothes: if they buy, she gets a commission. She has also collaborated with #AmExPlatinum in highly stylised posts that convey the perceived luxury lifestyle promoted by the financial services brand. Each one carries a carefully worded caption and the #ad tag, defining the post as a piece of paid-for advertising. This boundary between independent editorial posts and those that have been paid for in some way is one that is blurred in this new era of social media marketing.

We have no issue with social influencers working with brands, as long as consumers arent misled, says Guy Parker, chief executive of the Advertising Standards Authority, which is working with the Federal Trade Commission in the US and the newly formed International Council of Advertising Self-Regulation to develop some kind of oversight of influencer marketing. We define advertising as a tweet, vlog, blog or Instagram post where the influencer has been paid and there has been some control over the content. We therefore expect the post to have #ad on it in a prominent position, not buried in 30 other hashtags, but in the first three lines of the caption, so it isnt hidden to followers. Its not fair to consumers to expect them to play detective and deduce whether something is an ad or not.

Many millennials believe this isnt necessary as they claim to be able to see whether content is sponsored, but we believe it is imperative to protect consumers who arent that savvy, and ensure they know.

Callum McCahon, strategy director at the social media agency Born Social, says the industry needs to be self-regulating, and that Instagram must take some responsibility for protecting consumers using their platform. Users scroll through feeds fast and are trained to skip past hashtags. I believe Instagram needs to have its own mandatory labelling system for a paid-for post, which Facebook which owns Instagram – has launched recently as branded content.

There is no doubt that a generation of style-conscious entrepreneurs are making a good living in some cases a fortune by building their own personal brands online with fan bases to rival many established global businesses. The challenge will be for newcomers to join a crowded market, and for those with a substantial following to keep them loyal.

The reason a brand is using an influencer is the trusting relationship they have with their followers, says McCahon. When its done properly it is a very effective method of building a brand and selling product.

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JarettKobek: The internet has been enormously detrimental to society

The author of Silicon Valley satire I Hate the Internet on the evils of social media, and how novelists have failed to tackle it

When the novel I Hate the Internet came out in the US earlier this year, it had every likelihood of sinking without trace. It was self-published, it was by a young unknown Jarett Kobek and its main selling point was naked, gleeful contempt for the devices and technology platforms that are an essential part of all our daily lives. Nothing says individuality like 500 million consumer electronics built by slaves, he says at one point. Welcome to hell. Hell, for Kobek, a 38-year-old American of Turkish heritage, became daily life in San Francisco, where the novel is set. Along with many of the citys artists and writers, he found himself driven out by the forces of gentrification, moved to Los Angeles, where hes now based, set up his own small press, and wrote this book a scorching satire of how a few hypercapitalist companies in Silicon Valley have come to dominate everything. I Hate the Internet didnt sink without trace. It found a readership thirsty for its funny, acerbic edge, got a rave review in the New York Times, went to the topof the bestseller charts in Germanyand has now been published here by Serpents Tail.

So, do you actually hate the internet, Jarett?
Not particularly. Theres part of it that I find really contemptible. The title is offered like the sneer of a 15-year-old into Twitter, after theyve just seen a meme of someone having sex with a chicken or something. I hate parts of it. I certainly think its been enormously detrimental to society.

You seem particularly down on Twitter.
Its not Twitter per se. Its the undue amount of importance that very serious people put on Twitter. That,to me, is whats infuriating. Its a social network that makes everyonesound like a 15-year-old and then very serious people take it way too seriously. And thats not how to run a society. Thats not how to effectchange.

You say: One of the curious aspects ofthe 21st century was the great delusion that freedom of speech and freedom of expression were best exercised on technological platformsowned by corporations dedicated to making as much money as possible. And yet youre not exempt from that: your novel is available as an ebook
Ah, yes. Ultimately, we live in a very dark moment where if you want to be part of any extended conversation beyond a handful of people, you do have to sign on to some things that, ultimately, are very unpalatable. Every era has its unanswerable questions, so maybe the thing to do, which is what I did in the book, is to just acknowledge the inherent hypocrisy of all of it. Though maybe thats an easy dodge.

One of the things that comes up time and again is the undercurrents of misogyny and racism that seem to have been enabled or unleashed by technology. Do you think theres something fundamental about that?
I do think it has to be acknowledged that this technology which seems to be really good at enabling misogyny and abuse of women was created in rooms where there were no women. The people who seem to be the recipients of the most abuse online look like the people who were simply not in the room when all of this stuff was being created. If the book does anything, it acknowledges that.

It seems like a particularly interesting moment to think about that in terms of where were at now. Would Trump have been possible without the internet?
Of course not. Look who benefits from all the endless newspaper inchesabout how the oppressed peoples of the world are going to be liberated by technology. Ive just been on book tour to a lot of battleground states where I spent a lot of time 10 years ago. And if you want to look what hypercapitalism looks like, do a before and after of the Midwest, with a 10-year-break in between. Its so devastated. Was it always a wonderful place to live? Probably not, but was it sort of like a road of ruination and emptiness? No. And I think the internet has been really good at aiding that process, certainly in destroying jobs.

Reading your book made me think that we simply havent even had the language to criticise the internet until now. That theres been no outside to the internet. No place to oppose it from
I think the outside is publishing, actually. I mean publishing in the most Platonic sense of the word, rather than the squalid industry that we have. I think that books actually can be anything. Publishings response to the internet has been completely pathetic, but God, if theres going to be an opposition, a response, its not going to come in the form of tweets.

You claim writers have chosen to ignore the dominant story of the 21st century and have instead rolled over and embraced Twitter as a marketing device. Do you think theres just been a complete dereliction of duty?
Not from everyone, but yes, if you see the literary novels that have been coming out even in the last two or three years, very few of them have much of a connection to anything now. How many of the literary novels published by the four major companies in the US have much to do with a world after which Trump wins the presidency? Have they published even a single working-class writer? I cant think of one.

Youre pretty scathing about some of thetechnology companies. You say that the idea that Google and Twitter contributed to the Arab spring is like saying the Russian revolution was sponsored by Ford…
I went to Egypt in 2011, about four weeks after Mubarak fell and no one mentioned Facebook or Twitter. Whatthey were talking about was money, and how they didnt have any. At the same time, I was living in San Francisco, where there were Facebook employees who seemed to believe they were bringing enlightenment and freedom to the oppressed masses of the world, evicting Latino families whod lived in the same place for 60 years. Its just absurdIts absurd to think that a complex, social thing, like a revolution, happening 7,000 or 8,000 miles awaywas being fuelled and generatedby some stuff some nerds put out on a cellphone.

You had to make legal changes to the UK edition, which youve done with the device of writing [JIMLL FIX IT] where youve redacted passages such as those about Googles Larry Page and Amazons Jeff Bezos. How did that come about?
I didnt want to delete the text per se, and Id just read Dan Daviess biography of Jimmy Savile and it really fascinated me, because in the US youre constantly being told everything is a conspiracy and actually nothing ever is. Rich people tell you what theyre going to do and then they do it. Whereas here, there really was a conspiracy. It really did happen.

I Hate the Internet is published by Serpents Tail (12.99). Click here to order a copy for 10.65

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I was so embarrassed I cried: do parents share too much online?

From first smiles to teenage experiments, a generation of children has had their every move posted by their parents. What can they do about it?

Picture a child entering the world, around the time that a new social networking venture known as thefacebook.comis making its own entrance to the world. It is 2004, and the child is easy to picture. Her parents have photographed their daughters first breath, first smile, first spoonfuls and first steps. When she reaches school age, she is snapped in uniform, probably outside the front door, and one parent, probably her mother, shares the image with friends. The child learns to read, write her name. She wins certificates, excels at sport. When Twitter, Instagram and later Vine arrive, her public identities multiply. She starts secondary school.

In a few months, this child and her classmates will begin to turn 13 and, perhaps, create their own Facebook accounts. When they do, they will come face to face with their digital shadow. They may step into it easily, or try to sever themselves from it, but it wont let go, this pre-existent media identity, because it has logged their lives from the moment they left the womb. Some will recognise their digital shadow, but what of those whose online identity bears little relation to their sense of self, or to the public identity they want to share? For years, parents have fretted about their childrens posting activities, while continuing to post as they wish about their offspring. Is it time they stopped or at least asked for permission first?

Today these questions are on the minds of the children at Kingsford community school in Beckton, east London, where the 13-, 14- and 15-year-old members of the Debate Mate after-school club are filing into a classroom on the first floor, slinging down school bags and glancing at the motion on the whiteboard. This house would ban parents from posting about their children on social media, the debate leader writes.

Its kind of weird your parents are still posting pictures of you on social media, someone says. One boy, Malachi, bows his head and writes a single word on his notepad: reputation. This is really about consent, his friend says. Do I want to be seen by a larger, broader range of people? There is a loud hum of agreement and one girl raises her voice: Parents! We dont want them invading our privacy. Because some of us, the only privacy we get is through social media.

These pupils often discuss social networking sites, their attractions and perils, but this is the first time they have turned their scrutiny on their own parents. And yet parents are the object of an increasingly aggressive interrogation. This spring a mother from Shropshire called out her sons bullying on Facebook, only for the post to go viral; the criticism of her became so intense she removed it and changed her Facebook page and phone number. Next came the 20-year-old mother from Balloch, Scotland, whose photographs of her 11-month-old daughter in tiny high fashion outfits attracted an Instagram following that included Khlo Kardashian until critics claimed the woman was sexualising her baby. She has since locked the account and gone to ground. After her came the Arizona father who nakedly cradled his naked, feverish baby in the shower, an image his wife snapped and shared, before Facebook removed it as offensive.

Excessive sharing about your children has long incited disapproval, but recently the disapproval has begun to acquire a proto-legal tinge. In March, French police warned parents against posting photos of their children on social media; according to social media analyst Eric Delcroix, the children could soon be able to sue them for posting inappropriate pictures, under the countrys privacy laws. The treasurer of the UKs Human Rights Lawyers Association, Leanne Targett-Parker, echoes the idea that it is only a matter of time before children mount legal challenges against oversharing parents. You cant imagine it not being something that starts to develop within the next five to 10 years, she says. I cant see how there cant be attempts at suing people for putting up posts that theyre unhappy with.

Some parents may shrug off the shaming stories and the professionalised sharing of family vloggers such as the Shaytards, the Brataleys, the Ballingers as beyond the range of their own moderate social media activity. But listen to the children in the Kingsford classroom and it becomes clear how many degrees there are of shame. To these teenagers, even small instances of sharing can be divisive. When I ask if anyone has experienced being overshared themselves, hands shoot up, but the answers are a long way from the public shaming that normally grabs headlines. They are exactly the sort of infringements that many parents will commit without a second thought.

I was eating a Subway. Chicken teriyaki. Eating that and my mum just took the picture and posted it on Facebook, one pupil says.

When I was little my parents took a picture of me being potty-trained. Three weeks ago they posted it on Facebook. Me on the toilet. It was really embarrassing, another adds.

I was with my aunt in the park. I was wearing my scarf but I didnt have a pin. It flew off and my hair was all raggedy, sticking up all over the place. My auntie put it on Facebook. I was so embarrassed I was crying. I asked her to take it down but she said, No, it looks cute.

My uncle posted when his daughter had diarrhoea: Pray for her.

One girl, 14, raises her hand. Parents love to post things about you, personal information that you might not like, she says. Which kind of affects your relationship with them. Now, when you want to speak to them about certain things, youre worried they might post it.

Her classmate Erin stands up. Her team supports the motion on the whiteboard that parents should be banned from posting and they have an idea. We want to pass a law that requires open forms of social media to put a consent button on their pages, so a child can report whether their parents have posted about them without consent, she declares. If parents refuse to cooperate, they will be fined the amount of 1,000.

These suggestions may sound excessive and unfeasible; in fact they lie squarely within the recommendations made by a number of adults campaigning in this field. Erins idea of a penalty, for instance, echoes the attempts by a Democratic state representative in Illinois, La Shawn K Ford, to make the shaming of children on social networking sites an offence. Offending parents should face a penalty, he has argued, which, just like Erins, would be a fine paid directly to the child. As for the apparently far-fetched idea of a consent button, this sounds uncannily similar to the delete button proposed by 5Rights, the campaign steered by the peer and film-maker Beeban Kidron to protect and empower children online.

More generally, the debaters irritation chimes with research published in March by a team at the University of Michigan. After interviewing 249 parent-children pairings across 40 US states, the researchers found that children were more than twice as likely as parents to say that adults should not post information online about them without permission. Would the Kingsford children concur? Class E11 rings with shouts of, Yes!

It aint going to happen, their teacher, Miss Alimi, says.

Miss! one of her students cries. Theres a thing called wishful thinking.


Miss Alimi is right: children are unlikely to gain control over their parents posting habits. But there is still scope for a conversation about what constitutes fair sharing, and each family will draw its lines differently. Consider the case of Heather Whitten, the Arizona-based photographer and teaching assistant who took the photograph of her husband and son in the shower that Facebook didnt like. Whitten saw the moment, and the image, as the height of parental care. Their toddler, Fox, had had a temperature for hours. Her husband, Thomas, was trying to cool the childs fever. For two years, Whitten kept the image private, finally posting it in May after Facebook removed other pictures she had shared of her children. She wanted to take a stand, to show that its just innocent pictures that people are twisting and getting offended by.

She was unprepared for the response for the way in which Facebook removed images from her page every time it received sufficient complaints, for the level of disapproval the image provoked, including claims that it was sexual or inappropriate. But Whittens stand had one other unexpected consequence. As the interested and the outraged followed the link to her blog, some began to question the legality, as well as the sense, of showing children naked. I just thought you were free to post what you wanted on the internet, Whitten says now. But then she discovered that in the state of Arizona, you cant show any naked images of childrens pelvic area or butt, and I realised I was technically breaking a law.

She removed the blog took everything down but in the bigger, moral sense, I dont feel Ive done anything wrong. Im not exploiting my children. Im not abusing my children. Im just sharing our lives exactly how they are.

Whittens experience shows just how nebulous and fraught the territory of sharing can be. Sure, her experience would never befall those for whom posting naked images of children is strictly out of bounds. But the case of Whitten is complicated. She and her partner are raising their children to not be ashamed or embarrassed of their bodies. They are living online within the offline boundaries they have set for themselves. People dont show nudity a lot of times because they think it will have a negative impact on their child. Your footprint is for ever on the internet, Whitten says. For me, its absurd. I just hope to combat that a little. Who knows how it will actually turn out, but I hope that my children wont ever look back and see pictures of themselves as children and feel embarrassed by other people seeing them as well. Because there is nothing to be embarrassed about.

Fox, the toddler in the shower, is still too young to veto or cherish the photograph that caused such controversy, but his older sister Lily, nine, loves it, according to her mother. She couldnt really wrap her head around why people would think there was anything wrong with it.

And yet, while Lily was comfortable with the image of her baby brother, she was deeply unhappy with other photographs her mother had uploaded the apparently harmless kind that many parents post. One day at around the age of six, Lily began to scroll through her mothers Instagram. She saw how many pictures there were of her and she didnt like it, Whitten says. For months, whenever Lily saw Whitten with the camera, she hid. That really opened up a conversation about why I take pictures, why I share pictures, who I share pictures with. Now, Whitten says, any time you see Lily, it is with her permission.

Alicia Blum-Ross, a researcher at the London School of Economics, believes we are entering a crucial moment. We are starting to see kids who have grown up, whose parents have shared images, and who are beginning to say: Wait a minute. Im not sure Im comfortable with that. What families need, she thinks, is a coming-of-age conversation. After all, it was Lily Whitten herself, at six, who instigated the dialogue with her mother that earned her the right to veto content. Does Lily have advice for other children? They should say, Please dont take any pictures of me it makes me uncomfortable, she says. And I might change my mind one day, but today I dont want to have to hide from your camera. Soon this digital rulebook chat might become as standard as the one about the birds and the bees. Blum-Ross sees nothing to fear. Both parties, she points out, are united by being the first generation of parents and children to negotiate this path. It can be a really shared experience, she says enthusiastically. The dilemmas are shared dilemmas, the pleasures are shared pleasures. Its a moment of overlap.

Blum-Ross, who has three-year-old twins, says she is not a person who advises total protection. I certainly wouldnt say, Dont share things about your children online. Its important that parents are able to claim their own space about that. Its OK to say, I need this community. Whitten, too, has always seen her sharing in those terms: I feel I share everything as my story this is my perspective on my life as a mother with these children. Im not trying to put words in their mouth, or tell the story from their perspective.

It is one of the oldest questions of storytelling: who does the story belong to? Blum-Ross, Whitten and countless others believe they are telling their own stories, and sharing posts about their children where they fit that perspective. But its complicated. I never had a filter before, says Whitten, sounding forlorn. I love the idea of having connections with other mothers and people. But I cant share the way I used to. After the Facebook furore, she is still fathoming whether to photograph differently or simply stop sharing.

Photograph: Getty Images

For other parents, such as the author Amy Webb, who has written about her commitment to post nothing about her daughter online, the same process of consideration deters them from sharing altogether. They have the big conversation with themselves, each other, sometimes their children and decide the best answer is silence.

When the Guardian asked readers about their experiences, Apricot, who is 30 and lives in the north of England, wrote: When I started to Facebook my own childs pictures, I began to feel intensely uncomfortable. How could I instil in her a principle of privacy when I had essentially devalued hers from the beginning? She stopped posting. What we post is facets of ourselves, said Tamasine Preece, a teacher in Bridgend, whose PhD includes a chapter on oversharing. I think there is a morality to using children to explore parts of ourselves. My children are not me. They are separate.

Kidron, who says she has never interacted with her children on social networking sites (they are now 19 and 21), thinks that her behaviour reflects the idea that oversharing is inappropriate when the whole point of the journey to adulthood is to self-define to work out who you are, what your values are, how youre going to fit in. I think we have not thought hard enough about what that process might be like, if so much is shared and so much is public.

There are three issues here, she says. One is the right to a certain sort of privacy. The second is the need of young people to transgress and bump into their edges, and for that to be somewhat safe. The third is the need to break away from the model of your parents.

My own Facebook posts dried up as I researched this article. Of course, I can ask my children for consent, but I am not sure they are ready for a responsibility with permanent consequences. If an eight-year-old consents to a post, is it fair to act upon that consent, or should a parent second-guess how those feelings might evolve? After all, posts are eternal and a child cannot speak for his or her future self.

In any case, a childs consent can be capricious, even within one given day. My daughter, at eight, would prefer her photo not to appear on Facebook, but would be more than happy to see a video of herself playing Swingball on YouTube. My six-year-old, meanwhile, says he is sad that Google doesnt know me. Even the teenagers at Kingsford are conflicted. In the end, they vote against Erins suggestion of a fine for parents who share without their childrens consent, but they squirm in their seats, clawing the air for a turn to speak when I ask what rules they would lay down for their parents:

Dont say embarrassing jokes cos thats too much.

As far as the world is concerned, were not related.

Post pictures of me when I look amazing.

Dont post baby pictures unless Im happy and fully clothed.

Dont ever comment on my pictures.

Dont stalk my profile waiting for me to load pictures.

Dont follow.

Dont add me. Or my friends.

Dont tell dad jokes.

Dont take pictures of me eating food, cos my friends take it out of context.

Dont try and use internet slang on our wall. On your friends profiles you can embarrass yourselves all you want, but when its on our profiles it looks like weve taught you to say that. And it makes us look really bad.

Stay behind the times.


Of course, every family is different. In a quiet cul-de-sac in Newton Abbot, Devon, with sunlight pouring into the lounge, Molly Povey and her 11-year-old son Roman are sitting on the sofa discussing their experience of going viral.

In April 2015, with Roman desperately unhappy at school, Molly posted a plea on her Facebook page for his classmates parents to send her beautiful son birthday cards. Roman doesnt have any friends and often cries himself to sleep, the post began. It was shared around the world. Maybe 40,000 times, Molly says. (Interestingly, her post breaks only the second of the Kingsford rules, by disclosing that Molly and Roman are related.)

Neither Molly nor Roman, nor his two brothers, nor his dad Ian, who says he hates social media, were prepared for what happened next. Thousands of people left birthday greetings online. At the office of a friend whose address was hastily borrowed to protect Romans privacy cards and gifts began to arrive. Molly formalised the chaos into a Cards For Roman Facebook page.

Friendships were made, and some of them have lasted to the extent that in April, a year after his mothers plea for help, Roman celebrated his 12th birthday with 150 friends, strangers and Facebook friends at a Nandos in Exeter and at a second party in London. They have even met up with well-wishers in Germany.

Molly Povey, whose post about her sons loneliness went viral, with some of the birthday cards he was sent by strangers all over the world. Photograph: Rebecca Rees for the Guardian

While Molly tells this story, talking quickly because there is a lot to fit in, Roman scurries to and fro with his gifts: a Star Wars chess set from someone in the Netherlands, pictures from Brazilian schoolchildren (Molly says he is very big in Brazil), wicker baskets of cards.

But sometimes Molly worries. A bit. I think, what happens in years to come if he Googles himself and finds Lonely boy with no friends? Last year the local paper ran a front-page headline saying just that. I thought, oh my God, what have I done? Roman was with her, and comforted her. But it is true, he said. I am really lonely.

For the Povey family, the benefits of Mollys post are visible each day. His tearfulness has declined. The whole household is happier. Molly herself has found, in the Facebook page, a community that makes her feel supported and which, in turn, needs her. And now youve got a responsibility, Ian says. Its a strange thing. He himself has never read the initial post, usually declines to appear in photographs, and thinks that when it comes to sharing, Its best to err on the side of caution. Occasionally, Molly tells her community that Roman is having a bad day, or that she is: she doesnt want to pretend to people who know loneliness that loneliness doesnt happen. And yet, as Ian says, Its difficult to know sometimes what Roman really thinks about it.

Molly leads the way up to Romans bedroom, to show more of the gifts people sent. There is James Bond notepaper from the actor Andrew Scott, who played the baddie in Spectre, and a crew T-shirt from Star Wars: Episode III.

I wonder if Roman minds thousands of strangers knowing hes sad. Do you mind? Molly asks him. Do you mind that people know you get really lonely?

Maybe, Roman replies. I dont know. Ill go yes: I dont like it.

You dont like it? Molly repeats, incredulous.


What, that people around the world know you are lonely?


You dont like it now? she asks again.


Oh, Molly says. She sounds deflated.

It just feels weird, it does, Roman tells her.

Although Molly has publicly revealed aspects of her sons emotional life that other parents might hesitate to share, she is not incautious. For months she withheld Romans full name and has only recently felt comfortable disclosing that he is autistic. Before her heartfelt post, she deleted baby pictures of Romans older brother because he was about to start secondary school; surely the Kingsford debaters would approve.

Like Alicia Blum-Ross and Heather Whitten, Molly has rules. Think about whether its appropriate if in a year or five years your child would be embarrassed by anything youve done. And just why are you actually doing it? Is it a positive thing, or is it to give you a social boost as opposed to the children? Molly might appear to be at the opposite end of the spectrum from Tamasine Preece, who never posts, but the morals that underpin their behaviour are remarkably alike. And while Molly thinks you shouldnt be posting pictures of kids in the bath, in some ways her posts are as exposing as Whittens.

Later that evening Molly emails to say that the conversation with Roman had troubled her. After Id left the house, she offered to take down the page, she says, but Roman said not to. Turns out he was confused in his room and was talking about not liking being lonely, and not his page.

Or maybe Roman, in that moment, wished no one knew he was lonely. Then, later, when his mother checked, he minded less. Or maybe he understands that the community his mother has created has benefited him and his family. But these are only guesses. It is impossible to know. He is young, and the world changes many times a day. His parents have his best interests at heart, but like any who share news of their children, every time they post, they cross a line between privacy and publicity. Where each parent sees the line is an unsteady, unsettleable question. For Roman, and others like him, the truth may be something they are still working out, or simply prefer not to share.

Ive gone online after a few glasses of wine and said things I shouldnt have: parents and children talk social media

Her posts can be really personal: Sadie Star with her mum, Elaine. Photograph: Jonathan Browning for the Guardian

Elaine Star, 47, a PA and poet, and her youngest daughter Sadie, 17, a student, live in Brighton

Elaine Ive had a Facebook account for about 10 years, so Sadie was probably seven when I first joined. I use it to keep in touch with different groups of people old friends, my poetry group, the puppet show I work with. Im also friends with a lot of my kids friends, because its often the best way of locating where mine are. I dont think it bothers them. All their friends are happy to come to the house and sit around my kitchen table and chat, so I dont think its odd. I dont post on their friends pages maybe just a Happy birthday message. But Im really impressed by the sorts of things they share about science, politics theyre very funny and insightful.

I have definitely made mistakes online. Ive gone on after a few glasses of wine and said things I shouldnt have. There have been some angry messages about the state my kids and their friends have left the house in. And they have all asked me to take down various photos. I get it: Im sensitive to the fact that theyre trying to be cool or whatever.

I think Im past the stage of worrying too much about embarrassing my kids. I write poems that are very personal, and I share them on Facebook. But thats how I express myself. The kids have occasionally said, Stop living your life on Facebook but Im an open person.

Theyre all fairly streetwise. We have a very open dialogue in our house. They have occasionally posted things that I think are a bit questionable showing off a bit about drinking with their friends, that sort of thing. I might have said, Hmm, you might want to think about that but Ive never said, Take that down. Im glad Facebook wasnt around to record my teenage years, though. Id hate it.

Sadie My siblings and I all use Facebook in different ways. Stevie posts a lot of pictures; Maisie likes to talk about stuff. Me and Joe post a lot of news stories, and I like posting videos or songs. I dont like to put up personal pictures, or get too emotional on Facebook. My mums posts can be really personal.

At the beginning, I didnt really want to be friends with her on Facebook. I didnt really want her seeing pictures of me that my friends had posted. They werent anything bad; they just felt like a bit of my life that was separate from her. Now I dont mind as much Im more open. Shes also friends with a lot of my friends on there. Thats not a problem, except that shes quite free with what she writes. Something would happen between us, and shed put it in a poem, and post it to Facebook, and I wondered whether my friends would see her in a different way. I think maybe I felt protective of her. But no one has ever said anything.

She has a lot of photos of us when we were little. When I was a bit younger, I hated seeing some of them online. I remember there was one where I was holding my pet hamster and I just thought I looked greasy and rough. And once my room was really messy and my mum said, Ill take pictures and put it on Facebook. I would have hated it if shed actually done it. Now Im a bit older, Ive learned to let go of it all a bit more. I think Im OK with whats out there about me.

I dont feel like the same person I was when I was little: Nell Redelsperger-Talbot with her mother, Juliet. Photograph: Lewis Khan for the Guardian

Juliet Redelsperger-Talbot, 43, a marketing and events manager, and Nell, 13, live in Eye, Suffolk, with Nells father and her brother Lawrence, 10

Nell Ive been cyberbullied before. One of my followers on Instagram, someone I knew, turned on me, then a couple of others who Id thought were friendly were making comments on my posts. It wasnt nice, and I wasnt sure how to handle it. In school they give you lessons about what to do if it happens to you, but when it comes to it, the reality is very different. But the school did deal with it.

After that, I became a lot more careful about who I accept as friends, and what people can see. Now I have one account for my photography and a separate one for my closest friends.

I have looked briefly at Mums Facebook account, but I dont have a clue about how Facebook works. I dont think I mind that there are photos of me. If you know the people that can see those photos, then thats OK. If its not private, Im not so sure about that. But I dont find it embarrassing. Maybe its because I dont feel like the same person I was when I was little. It doesnt feel as if those pictures are of me.

Juliet The cyberbullying was a harrowing time for Nell, but what was good was that some of her friends were supportive and took screenshots of the comments as proof of what was happening. Nell was worried I would be angry, so she didnt come to me until after it was over. It was awful, but in a way, I think it helped her understand what youre exposed to online.

Nell is a great photographer, and she sends me pictures, but Icheck that she is happy before I post anything on Facebook. Your children have every right to veto what you put online, although they have to be a certain age before they understand what it means. Neither of mine have ever had an issue with something Ive posted, but then theyre the generation that are used to having photos of themselves everywhere. I think it meant something different for my generation. It took so long to get photos developed that seeing yourself was so much more important.

The children were very little when I first signed up. I dont remember thinking much about privacy then. It wasnt until I read in the paper how posts about your children might be seen by complete strangers that I changed my settings.

As time went by, I began to feel uncomfortable about posting. It felt like everything online was becoming more about Look how wonderful I am and it made me feel quite down. So I left for a while. Eventually I rejoined because it was hard to keep up with everything. So now Ive started again but in a very different way.

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Why so much coverage of Amazon Prime Day? The incentives, of course

By signing up to the retail giants affiliate network, Amazon Associates, publishers can earn commissions from linking to products on

In July 2015, Amazon declared its own annual holiday: Amazon Prime Day. The retail giant promised deals on a wide range of products for customers signed up to its membership program, Amazon Prime.

This is the second Amazon Prime Day, and its pretty hard to miss. At the time of writing, the #PrimeDay hashtag was one of Twitters top 10 worldwide trends. Media outlets including the Daily Mail, USA Today, the Telegraph, PC World and CNet are publishing numerous stories about the discounts on offer, and urging readers to sign up for an Amazon Prime trial.

What many of those readers wont realise is that publishers are financially incentivised by Amazon to write about Prime Day. By signing up to the retail giants affiliate programme, Amazon Associates, publishers can earn commissions from linking to products on

Media partners are given access to a tool that lets them generate unique hyperlinks to products that they can put in their news articles that way Amazon can tell which publisher sent a given customer to its website. If the customer buys a product from Amazon, the publisher is rewarded with a kickback of between 1% and 8.5% of the items value (higher if a publisher has negotiated a bespoke partnership), along with anything else they buy from the site at the same time.

Publishers also get paid $3 each time someone signs up for the 30-day free trial of Amazon Prime.

Affiliate marketing is nothing new and it can be a legitimate way for publishers to make money and for retailers to drive sales. News organisations commonly write about products and can choose to link to sites where readers can buy them, including Amazon.

However, with Amazon Prime Day publishers are strongly motivated to base their editorial agenda on how they can generate commissions rather than whats in the best interest of the reader.

If a media company is an Amazon Associate, its in their best interest to hype up Amazon Prime Day as much as possible, says Tricia Meyer, an affiliate marketing consultant based in Indianapolis. The deals arent necessarily the best deals of the year, but bloggers and media companies are writing about them as a way to make a bit of extra money.

Lewie Procter is the founder of SavyGamer, a website that flags daily deals on video games. The majority of the websites revenue comes from affiliate deals. He is part of Amazons Associates programme, but he hasnt linked to any Prime Day deals this year.

I never put anything on my site unless Im confident its the best deal even if that means linking to a retailer I dont get commission from. Its worth more to me to have my users implicitly trust that Im getting the best deal for them rather than pushing a place with a better margin, says Procter.

In the US, Federal Trade Commission guidelines state that publishers who use affiliate links are supposed to disclose the commercial arrangement. If you disclose your relationship to the retailer clearly and conspicuously on your site, readers can decide how much weight to give your endorsement, says the FTC. Putting disclosures in obscure places for example, buried on an about us or general info page, behind a poorly labeled hyperlink or in a terms of service agreement isnt good enough.

For David Weinberger, a researcher at Harvards Berkman Klein Center, transparency about affiliate relationships may not be enough.

Transparency is good but not sufficient because the transparency is revealing that the news medium is in fact taking money from the subject of its journalism, he says. And perhaps most perniciously it gives large stores with the most generous affiliate relationships an advantage in the market.

Last years Prime Day, which marked Amazons 20th birthday, was a major success for Amazon. July is typically a slow month for retailers and the hype around the first event in 2015 meant that Amazon sold more units than it did on Black Friday, the sales extravaganza that takes place on the day after Thanksgiving, the year before.

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