When is child labor not child labor? The answer, according to AOL-owned blog The Huffington Post, may be “When teenagers are producing content for the Internet for free.”
HuffPost has been criticized in the past for exploiting writers by not paying them for their work, but any debate over whether or not such treatment is fair is about to kick up several notches with the creation of HuffPost High School, a site edited by a 17-year-old that will be filled with the work of teenage bloggers and the addition of high school writers to Patch, AOL’s community blog network.
(MORE: AOL To Add 8000 Unpaid Bloggers in 8 Days?)
AOL and HuffPost are said to be soliciting contributors from high schools and middle schools in an attempt to add younger voices to the Patch blogs, with a spokeswoman explaining that the company will partner “with parents and schools to provide young journalists with the opportunity to have their voices and stories heard.” How young, exactly? “Patch is not geared toward users under thirteen.”
Beyond the legality of whether or not this counts as child labor—the stumbling point seems to be whether blogging constitutes labor (insert your own jokes here)—this plan raises all sorts of questions. Will the teenage bloggers be allowed to say whatever they want, if their parents/guardians don’t want them to? Who owns the work they create? Do any contracts they sign have to be co-signed by parents/guardians? Or even: How do you create one site that manages to appeal to 13-year-olds as much as 17-year-olds (and all age groups between)? After all, even if AOL and HuffPost manage to get away with creating an underage, unpaid content farm, there’s no guarantee of success.
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Graeme McMillan is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @Graemem or on Facebook at Facebook/Graeme.McMillan. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.