A Hip Replacement for the Hype House: Potential Reforms to TikTok Content Houses and their Exploitative Employment Structure

By Emma Barudi

March 28, 2024

Introduction

            Despite only entering the international social media scene in 2017, TikTok has quickly become popular. This is especially true for young adult users, which make up a strong majority of the app’s user base worldwide. Not only does the app attract users for a few minutes, but it keeps them on the app longer due to its strong algorithm that is addictive to children and young adults. TikTok’s versatility, with a smorgasbord of filters for filming and songs for dance videos, was attractive for users to step into making videos themselves. There are countless stories of individuals randomly becoming TikTok famous, with Charli D’Amelio being just one example. And, with TikTok’s popularity came profitability. Not only does TikTok have a Creator Fund, which pays TikTokers for their videos at values based on their views and engagement, but influencers also can rake in money from sponsored content or advertisements. For example, D’Amelio, who has the highest number of followers on the platform at 151.6 million, has annual total earnings estimated at $17.5 million, largely derived from brand deals with a wide range of companies.

Given their reliance on views and post engagement to earn money from the Creator Fund and pull in bigger sponsorship deals, influencers who wish to earn more on the app are in search of ways to gain followers. This is where structures like content houses come into play. The purpose of the content houses can be summarized as follows — if a group of TikTokers, each with their own following, live and create content together, they can boost each other’s statistics. Influencers often meet up and work together on videos to reach a wider audience — a content house, managed by an influencer or group of influencers themselves or by a talent agency, in theory, makes that reality possible more often and creates increasing returns to scale as you add more creators to the house. Such a communal structure can also create additional branding opportunities — the content house can make its own account, create its own merchandise, and have its own brand deals.  In discussing these benefits, this piece focuses on the Hype House — of which D’Amelio used to be a member — Kids Next Door, and Girls in the Valley. Their lucrative structure was not discovered in the age of TikTok, however. Thus, this piece also considers their origins and history among YouTube creators to examine the shortcomings of current content house structures and practices.

            The potential gains from content house membership do not come without drawbacks and even problematic structural issues. Living in a house with other influencers under a contract demands constant creativity and productivity and necessitates loss of privacy. Such contracts are often predatory, providing outsized benefits to the owners of the house rather than creators themselves. Many creators involved in content houses report never being paid by their landlord agencies or only being paid a small cut of their total earnings from brand deals. Some houses have also faced instances of sexual harassment or otherwise inappropriate romantic relationships.

Further, the extensive risks of financial exploitation are exacerbated by the age range of the creators themselves, which skews young to cater to TikTok’s user base. Like Instagram and X, TikTok’s user base is quite young — one in four users is under the age of twenty, and almost half of the users on the platform are under the age of thirty. Similarly-aged creators often lack financial literacy and are vulnerable to financial exploitation. This is especially true for creators under 18. Parents’ involvement is often unhelpful if not problematic in financial dealings surrounding content creation due to factors like similarly low financial literacy, particularly in this relatively new and ever-changing industry, and additional pressure for children to be lucrative for their parents’ selfish benefit.1Marina A. Masterson, Comment, When Play Becomes Work: Child Labor Laws in the Era of “Kidfluencers”, 169 U. Pa. L. Rev. 577, 593-94 (2021), https://scholarship.law.upenn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=9726&context=penn_law_review. The lack of regulation in this area due to the irregular employment structure, freedom of contract without informing the parties, and carveouts for child performers in labor laws, among other issues, upholds these exploitative structures and indicates a need for change in the legal structures surrounding this industry.

            This piece proceeds in three parts. First, the concept of TikTok content houses and their brief history is outlined to introduce their problematic structure, with reference their YouTube predecessors. Second, an in-depth analysis of a publicized contract connected to Hype House membership will address the legal issues in the employment and housing structure. The piece then concludes by exploring potential avenues of reform — including holding platforms responsible, requiring financial information and exploitation prevention training, unionizing, standardizing the contracts voluntarily, and strengthening the protection from child labor laws — and assessing the most feasible and effective opportunities to better protect influencers.

A Brief History of TikTok Content Houses

            The Hype House introduced TikTok to content houses when it was launched in December 2019. A week and a half after the announcement, its group account had already attracted three million followers. Thomas Petrou quickly established himself as the leading manager of the Hype House after its founding by three influencers. The original House had 19 members, but its roster has often changed; some founding members went on to open their own content houses or pursue independent careers, like Charli D’Amelio.

            Content houses were not first made for TikTok — they trace their roots to YouTube. O2L Mansion was one of the first popular channels of collaborative creators living under the same roof. The most famous YouTube content house was the Team 10 House, created by Jake Paul, and David Dobrik led another well-known house, the Vlog Squad. Vine developed a content-house structure in which a few major influencers lived in the same apartment complex at 1600 Vine Street. These houses aimed to generate a steady stream of collaborative content to boost engagement with posts and skyrocket all the members into stardom.

            These structures, though, were inundated with issues from the beginning. Team 10’s housing and employment agreement was built to solely benefit Paul. Influencers could live in the Team 10 House for free if they agreed to produce regular individual social media content and participate in collective brand deals, both of which only Paul could monetize. Paul also could take up to twenty percent of the Team 10 members’ advertisement revenue from their individual YouTube accounts for up to five years, even if they later decided to leave the house. Once the members moved into the Team 10 House, Paul set up business email accounts in their names that he controlled; thus, the influencers who were part of the house were unaware of employment opportunities that were sent their way unless Paul chose to share the information with them. AJ Mitchell, a former member of Team 10, alleges that he only received payment for two brand deals he had directly solicited himself and never received payment from Paul or Team 10 in the fourteen months he lived in the House.

            Not only did the houses create a revenue and profit structure that enabled the exploitation of creators, but YouTube houses have also suffered from issues with consent, loss of privacy, sexual harassment, and inappropriate sexual relationships. YouTube videos from Paul’s account reveal the elaborate pranks he would organize in the Team 10 house which include members being electrically shocked without any warning, being pressured to jump off a roof into a pool, sustaining damage to their valuable personal property, and losing their bedroom door to a chainsaw. Mitchell additionally claims that he had a sexual relationship with an influencer who was more than ten years his senior after meeting them at a party in the Team 10 house while he was still a minor.2Mitchell was fourteen when he joined the Team 10 House.

David Dobrik’s Vlog Squad also dealt with similar problems: a member of the group was accused of rape and the lead-up to the encounter, full of harassing behavior, was filmed and posted without permission on Dobrik’s account before the underage survivor requested its removal. Former members of the Vlog Squad have also stated certain pranks were conducted without their consent, they experienced bullying from Dobrik and other group leaders, and the group furthered misogynistic viewpoints.

            Some argue such exploitation resulted from the structure of these content houses, with top influencers like Jake Paul or David Dobrik leading the house and exerting power over other members. However, similar issues have also plagued TikTok content houses owned and operated by talent agencies, not individual creators. Ariadna Jacob, CEO of talent management firm Influences, has come under scrutiny for many of the same allegations YouTube content houses have faced. The Kids Next Door content house’s members, many younger than eighteen, made a deal with Jacob in which she agreed to pay half their monthly rent in exchange for the creators making content and fulfilling a certain number of brand deals solicited by her firm. After Jacob’s firm fell short of breaking even on the rent supplementation, however, the influencers were told they would have to cover more than their agreed share of rent despite having a lower-than-expected payout from brand deals the firm did land. One influencer found out that all the proceeds from her brand deals, including both those she signed individually and those through Jacob, were going to Jacob, who owes her more than $20,000.

            The Girls in the Valley House, also managed by Jacob, faced the same situation. After members were promised money, sponsorships, a reality TV show, and mentorships with industry superstars, they were paid nothing, asked to do unpaid sponsorships, and given inadequate housing. The members, some of whom were underage, also experienced loss of privacy, bullying and peer pressure, and sexually inappropriate encounters. Jacob entered the House at her leisure, placed a security camera in the kitchen without the tenants’ consent, and threatened to evict creators that did not post on social media at least eight times a day. On top of all that, she allegedly leaked nude photos of one creator to other members in the House, their sponsor brands, and potential investors as a manipulation tactic.

            Stories like this are not unique to Jacob and her firm — these illustrate repeated issues throughout the industry. When a young adult becomes viral, brands seek them out for promotions, and agencies take advantage of the frenzy by sharing inflated credentials and empty promises. Assuming young influencers, and potentially their parents, have no knowledge of the business, they will often agree to work with the first person that contacts them, signing multi-year, exclusive contracts. The same can be said for content houses, whether managed by a social media personality or an agency. Creators will join, motivated by promises of lucrative brand deals and a boost in followers and engagement statistics, only to be faced with limited, if any, returns on both ends — all this while losing privacy, facing sexually inappropriate encounters, and suffering trauma from bullying. The content house structure is ripe for exploitation and must be regulated or reformed to protect vulnerable creators.

An In-Depth Look at the Hype House Contract

            Cautionary tales regarding content houses like the ones discussed above are plentiful despite their brief history. But, one of the most instructive cases regarding the exploitative nature of the content house structure itself is the Hype House. Despite the House avoiding major scrutiny for incidents of inappropriate sexual relations or theft of revenue, analysis of their contract reveals the inherently exploitative nature of the content house model and demonstrates the need for broad legal reform.

            To join the Hype House, influencers must sign a contract containing various non-disparagement, confidentiality, non-disclosure, and waiver and release clauses. This includes eleven House rules that must be followed by members and their guests, who must also sign various agreements. The rules seem logical at first glance — members are not allowed to use drugs, conduct seriously offensive activities, or create nuisances. The House must be kept clean and in good condition, with the responsibility for damages caused by the creator or their guests being their financial burden.

            Yet, the implementation of the above rules raises concern. Hype House management unilaterally determines what activities constitute “nuisances.” Apparently, Hype House owner Thomas Petrou’s controversial prank videos displaying breaches of privacy and an environment controlled by peer pressure do not count. Furthermore, if a creator damages something, Hype House reserves the right to repair it and invoice the creator for the cost, requiring receipt of payment within five business days of the invoice. This is a big ask for creators given the commonplace income inconsistency in the industry. Lastly, guest protocols require Hype House’s written consent to host more than two guests, a substantial invasion of privacy for the creator and placing a strong discretionary power on the collective corporation.

            Thus, the contract is, without question, one-sided — the Hype House collective holds significant power over individual creators. In addition to the House rules, the Hype House Group and owner Petrou are granted intellectual property rights to all content filmed on the grounds. Influencers who sign the agreement also waive all capability to sue the Hype House for any legal claim, known or unknown in the future. The contract additionally provides no compensation structure for any deal taken directly by the collective itself, like its sponsorships from Chipotle and Bang Energy, and merchandise sales. This issue brought legal trouble to the Hype House early in its history, yet they still have not changed the contract.3Daisy Keech’s lawsuit against Hype House cofounders Thomas Petrou and Chase Hudson alleges “they struck deals without her, exiled her from the group and tried to position themselves as the only founders of Hype House.” Instead, the Hype House’s own brand sponsorships are used to pay the rent for the house, with informal negotiation made to get members to film collective content for the Hype House itself.4Hype House: A Hype House Divided, Netflix, https://www.netflix.com/browse (search “Hype House” under the search; then hover over “Hype House” and select “Episodes and info”; then select “A Hype House Divided”). See also Hype House: Low-key Beefing, Netflix, https://www.netflix.com/browse (search “Hype House” under the search; then hover over “Hype House” and select “Episodes and info”; then select “Low-key Beefing”).

            Expert lawyers with experience representing influencers note that the contract lacks industry-standard provisions. For example, nowhere in the contract does Hype House list its duties in the living and employment arrangements. Seemingly, the only benefits to influencers were the provision of housing and the chance to boost follower counts. Another benefit is that, unlike other content houses, Hype House does not take a cut of any influencer’s individual revenue.

While these may seem like strong benefits compared to other content houses, a lawyer Business Insider interviewed to help analyze the Hype House contract stated that without further clarifying agreements or language, “there is no way I’d let a client sign this agreement.” First, as described, though the provided housing is in a luxury mansion, this comes at the loss of privacy from the constant filming of videos and pranks, which as Team 10 showed, can be wrought with practical concerns. In addition, it is not entirely clear that the individual increase in followers materializes in a way that is unique and attributable to content houses. In the Netflix TV show Hype House, Petrou claims membership in the Hype House handed TikTok superstars Charli D’Amelio and Addison Rae Easterling their fame.5Hype House: A Hype House Divided, supra note 4. Yet, these former members were only in the collective for a short while, and their Hype House affiliation is not among their highest accomplishments — D’Amelio left when the collective became more business-oriented, as it was likely interfering with the success of her own ventures. In addition, the House’s most famous member at the time of filming the Netflix show, Vinnie Hacker, with over 15 million followers on TikTok, is ascribed as keeping the Hype House afloat.6Hype House: Low-key Beefing, supra note 4. Instead of building and uplifting talent, content houses like the Hype House are reliant on already-viral influencers to carry the collective financially and maintain popularity. Petrou blames this predicament on the demands of the social media industry rewarding the individual over the collective, but he and his company are nonetheless trying to utilize individual fame to lift themselves as a collective into stardom.

            The Hype House contract and informal negotiations between members only reinforce the general issues of the industry. Despite there being no apparent theft of revenue from the influencers in the Hype House, the contract reveals the fundamentally exploitative structure of content houses. The House takes not only the creator’s privacy, intellectual property, and freedom to associate, but it also assigns itself no duties to provide for the tenants, no compensation structure outside of the housing, and no proven benefit to the individual influencer’s fame. In order to better protect the influencers in the industry as a whole, legal reforms must be pursued.

Some Potential Reforms and Their Feasibility

             The structure of content houses and their effect on member influencers must be regulated or reformed. Not only are their contracts inherently exploitative due to the imbalance of power, profit, and duties between the employed creator and the owner, the nature of such a relationship makes it easy for bad actors to take advantage of the influencers by stealing their money, invading their privacy, and subjecting them to potential sexual harassment and inappropriate relationships. Because such a relationship between a creator and their content house is a combination of a labor and employment relationship with a landlord-tenant relationship in the vastly unregulated industry of social media, it is tricky to attempt to regulate the system in a uniform fashion.

            This piece lays out below a set of potential reforms and regulations that could better protect the influencers and their earnings, privacy, and dignity. For generally all content creators, reforms could include applying the joint employer doctrine to social media platforms, requiring mandatory financial literacy and exploitation prevention training provided by platforms, utilizing the SAG-AFTRA Influencer Unionization Agreement, and standardizing the industry’s contracts. Specifically for underage content creators, further regulation should be pursued; reforms could include the adoption and strengthening of Coogan Acts and passing amendments to the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to expand the definition of child performers and what constitutes oppressive labor. Each will be analyzed in turn.

Joint Employer

             First, influencers can argue that the social media platforms that they create content on, like TikTok, are their joint employer with the content house. Under the FLSA and current Department of Labor (DOL) guidance, a joint employment relationship exists when “one employer is acting directly or indirectly in the interest of the other employer…in relation to the employee.” Here, the content house, like Hype House, is being formed and creating content that is additionally benefiting the interest of a social media site, TikTok; thus, TikTok would be a joint employer with Hype House. This would pull TikTok and the Hype House into the requirements of the FLSA, including federal minimum wage payments, overtime rates if over forty hours of work are given by an employee, and the preservation of records regarding employees. This setup is further supported by the fact that the platforms police what influencers can and cannot post, as well as control the dissemination of money to creators, like TikTok with the Creator Fund. By pulling TikTok and other social media platforms into the employment of its influencers, the theory is that the companies will be more likely to regulate such structures internally, as they are now bearing the burden of responsibility.

            Such a structure may be possible under state law, but it is unlikely to occur under federal employment standards. One of the main obstacles is that it would be hard to conceptualize influencers as employees under such contracts; their structure may be best described as one of an independent contractor, which falls outside of the FLSA. Under freedom of contract rules, the influencer is joining the content house of their own volition. They could just as easily operate on these apps without a content house as a middleman and are also likely utilizing social media as an income source due to the freedom and independence that one cannot find in a regular “employee” job. Thus, their classification as an employee generally may not fit and may not be wanted by influencers themselves. Another issue is Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which immunizes social media sites from liability because of their position as an intermediary; if sites remove posts with inappropriate material or practice content moderation, they are freed from responsibility under Section 230 for what others say and do on their site.747 U.S.C. § 230. Courts have traditionally held a wide view of this immunity and would likely carry it over into the joint employer space. This is especially true given past social media platforms which are thought to have gone out of business because of their inability to financially support their popular creators. Regulators and courts would be wary of fighting infrastructure like the Creator Fund by slapping the joint employer doctrine on it because of the potential to shut down such enterprises. Thus, it seems very unlikely that the joint employer doctrine could apply at the federal level, but it does have potential in states like California.

Financial Literacy and Exploitation Prevention Training

             Another major issue for child and young adult influencers is the low financial literacy of both them and their parents when approached by mega-influencers or talent agencies to join a content house. These individuals are likely unsophisticated contract negotiators and have no union or lobbyist support; this is probably why talent agencies go after them.8Masterson, supra note 1, at 594. To combat this issue, legislators and regulators could construct a scheme in which TikTok and other social media sites are required to provide creators with training that expand financial literacy and teach them how to avoid exploitative contracts.9This concept is an idea that was constructed by the author. It was modeled off the Federal Student Aid “Student Loan Entrance Counseling Requirement,” which is a set of trainings that ensures those wishing to take student loans are aware of the terms and conditions of the loan and the rights and responsibilities of the borrower. For more information, see Complete Your Student Loan Entrance Counseling Requirement, Federal Student Aid, https://studentaid.gov/entrance-counseling/ (last visited Nov. 27, 2022). Such trainings could be available to creators once they reach a certain number of followers, like 100,000. It could be mandatory for them to watch by requiring users to finish the trainings before being able to continue posting content. If the influencer is under the age of eighteen, a parent could be required to watch it with them. Such a training could prove a massive success as it would show the platform’s interest in preventing such schemes, deter agencies and mega-influencers from attempting to take advantage of up-and-coming creators, and provide creators with the information and skills necessary to prevent such exploitation from occurring on an individual level.

SAG-AFTRA Influencer Unionization Agreement

             Another protective mechanism is for influencers to join the SAG-AFTRA Influencer Unionization Agreement. The union expanded its previous coverage of YouTube advertisement to cover all advertising work across platforms including Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok. The agreement would allow SAG-AFTRA members who create “influencer-generated branded content” in video or audio format to qualify for health and pension benefits. These would be in addition to the standard union membership benefits which include pension contributions, collective bargaining, and union assistance if issues with an employer arise. These benefits would assist an influencer looking to join a content house by providing them with more financial literacy, long-term protection with health benefits and union assistance for grievances, and the power of collective bargaining to gain more protection.

            While such an agreement has the potential to greatly benefit influencers, there are strong barriers to entry. This agreement is only solidly available to individuals who are already SAG-AFTRA members, thus excluding the up-and-coming influencers with no access to the industry. SAG-AFTRA states that the agreement “will provide a pathway for current influencers to become SAG-AFTRA members,” but does not specify how such a process would work. Currently, joining SAG-AFTRA requires working in a position covered by a SAG, AFTRA, or joint collective bargaining agreement and completing three days of work as a background actor or one day of work in a principal role.10Individuals can also become SAG-AFTRA members by being a member of an affiliated performers’ union for one year and being paid at least once as a principal performer in that union’s jurisdiction. Steps to Join, SAG-AFTRA  https://www.sagaftra.org/membership-benefits/steps-join (last visited Nov. 27, 2022). The influencer would also have to be incorporated as a business to qualify. The agreement as it currently stands thus has little capability to protect newer rising stars: not only does it only truly apply to those who are already SAG-AFTRA members, but it also only applies to advertising content, and may not offer the opening for the union to negotiate and work with content houses.

Standardization of Contracts

             Given that the potential for unionization of contractors is low for a multitude of reasons, including the difficulty in expanding SAG-AFTRA’s agreement to non-members and the likely classification of social media influencers as independent contractors by courts, there need to be other courses that can still provide protection to influencers. The current trend of TikTok houses is that they are coming under the representation of big names of entertainment – the Hype House is represented by WME and another popular collective, the Sway House, is now under a contract with ICM Partners. This movement in the industry would force influencer management firms to either grow to be able to compete or leave the industry by going bankrupt or being bought by the bigger names. The consolidation of the industry will offer a standardization of contracts to influencers not under union protection and bring professionalization to the talent agencies of social media sites.

            The potential for standardization of contracts has occurred in numerous industries over time.11See generally Mark R. Patterson, Standardization of Standard-Form Contracts: Competition and Contract Implications, 52 Wm. & Mary L. Rev. 327 (2010). To be able to have an impact that will benefit influencers, there must be heavy mobilization in the first few contracts to bring such measures into the contract for future transactions. Such measures could include ratcheted-up duties from the content house including respect for individuals’ privacy in certain areas of the house, protection of an individual creator’s intellectual property even if it is filmed on the house’s property, commitments to a punishment system for perpetrators of sexual harassment and sexual assault on the house’s property, and severance mechanisms if the house or the creator does not uphold their part of the bargain. This system could be backstopped by courts as matters of public policy to uphold their enforcement. To ensure that these make it into the contract, unions like SAG-AFTRA, powerful influencers like D’Amelio, and other influential parties would need to be involved in a collective scheme to bring public attention to the issue and create a public pressure campaign. Government actors could also get involved by creating general regulation that requires the provision of such protections or similar measures in content house contracts, but a powerful message from any level of government on the subject seems unlikely.12This is for a multitude of reasons, including the polarization of legislatures at the state and federal level, the lack of knowledge of the industry from representatives, and the lack of interest from members that do not represent heavy influencer populations. With such a public campaign for the first contracts made, the potential for strong influencer protection could be a foreseeable future.

Protection for Child Content Creators

            Additional action must be taken to protect underage influencers from content house exploitation. This can be done through nationalized Coogan Acts copied from the California model and amendments to the FLSA. Because there is more motivation to protect children nationwide, such actions seem more likely to occur in federal and state legislatures but may still be an uphill battle.

            The Coogan Act and its 1999 amendment in California, passed after an exploitative incident with a child actor, gives the child performer complete ownership of their earnings and requires parents of child performers to set aside 15% of the minor’s earnings in a blocked trust. State courts must also ratify the work contracts of the child performers, and the performers must obtain work permits to conduct their business. The child also then falls under regulations for child working hours, which requires time for rest and fun activities as well as mandates that there should be no interference with their education. The ownership of the total earnings by the child allows them to bring claims of embezzlement and fraud against their parents, or, in the case of a stealing content house, the owner for their lost earnings.13Masterson, supra note 1, at 580.

            Currently, twenty-four states have no requirement for work permits for child performers and seventeen states have no regulations for childhood entertainers.14Caroline Sisson, All Work and No Play can Make a Kid a Millionaire: Child Labor Laws and the Role of the DOL to Protect Minors in the Growing Industry of Social Media Employment, 7 Am. U. Admin. L. Rev. Accord 160, 175, https://administrativelawreview.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2022/09/ALR-Accord-7.3_Sisson_Cropped.pdf. Thus, Coogan Acts must be passed in more states or pursued federally. There should also be amendments to existing Coogan Acts to ensure its application to child social media influencers. This will allow for more oversight of such content house contracts and employment relationships, while also protecting kidfluencers who are independently exploited by their parents.

            Federally, Congress should look to amend the FLSA to ensure its applicability to child influencers. First, the definition of ‘child performers’ should be expanded to include those who are contracted to post branded content and other advertisements on social media.15Id. at 179. Second, ‘oppressive employment’, defined as work that is “detrimental to [one’s] health and well-being,” should include social media work.16Id. at 169, 171. The original scope, meant to apply to jobs involving heavy manual labor like coal mining and machinery operation, no longer poses itself as a significant problem in the American economy; on the other hand, social media influencer jobs have potentially physically and mentally damaging impacts on children and young adults, and their workplaces in content houses and elsewhere are vastly unregulated.17Id. at 171. Such a change at the federal level will be immensely powerful, as it will prevent social media companies and content houses from forum shopping to jurisdictions with little to no child entertainment labor regulation.18Id. at 181. These two relatively feasible legislative opportunities, in conjunction with the general reforms posed above, could make a huge difference in the protection of child social media influencers.

Conclusion

            The explosion of TikTok and the subsequent popularity of TikTok content houses has opened a Pandora’s box of problems for the influencers in them. In addition to the inherently unequal power structure of a content house with limited duties to their members that preys on weaker influencers with empty promises of boosted followings and massive earnings, creators in a content house open themselves up to a massive loss of privacy that is worsened by the popularity of prank videos, a forfeiture of control of their business opportunities or the people with whom they associate while living in the house, an inability to give consent to video arrangements, and a potential to be a victim of sexual harassment or assault with limited, if any, consequence for the perpetrator. Analysis of the Hype House contract revealed that even a house collective with no claims of sexual assault or no structure that takes revenue from its member influencers is still built against an individual influencer by having no duties to provide for them and no proven following benefit to them. The entire industry must be reformed to better protect the influencers. Holding the platforms accountable under a joint employer doctrine and unionizing the influencers under SAG-AFTRA have the ability to revolutionize the industry but have a low likelihood of coming to fruition. Instead, reform efforts should focus on creating mandatory financial literacy and exploitation prevention trainings for influencers, standardizing content house contracts under major industry players, and reinforcing child performer protections for minor influencers. By enacting such reforms, the future of the content house employment structure will become more professional and less exploitative, ensuring the free and fun use of TikTok for both users and content creators.


Emma Barudi, J.D. Class of 2024, N.Y.U. School of Law.

Suggested Citation: Emma Barudi, A Hip Replacement for the Hype House: Potential Reforms to TikTok Content Houses and their Exploitative Employment StructureN.Y.U. J. Legis. & Pub. Pol’y Quorum (2024).

  • 1
    Marina A. Masterson, Comment, When Play Becomes Work: Child Labor Laws in the Era of “Kidfluencers”, 169 U. Pa. L. Rev. 577, 593-94 (2021), https://scholarship.law.upenn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=9726&context=penn_law_review.
  • 2
    Mitchell was fourteen when he joined the Team 10 House.
  • 3
    Daisy Keech’s lawsuit against Hype House cofounders Thomas Petrou and Chase Hudson alleges “they struck deals without her, exiled her from the group and tried to position themselves as the only founders of Hype House.”
  • 4
    Hype House: A Hype House Divided, Netflix, https://www.netflix.com/browse (search “Hype House” under the search; then hover over “Hype House” and select “Episodes and info”; then select “A Hype House Divided”). See also Hype House: Low-key Beefing, Netflix, https://www.netflix.com/browse (search “Hype House” under the search; then hover over “Hype House” and select “Episodes and info”; then select “Low-key Beefing”).
  • 5
    Hype House: A Hype House Divided, supra note 4.
  • 6
    Hype House: Low-key Beefing, supra note 4.
  • 7
    47 U.S.C. § 230.
  • 8
    Masterson, supra note 1, at 594.
  • 9
    This concept is an idea that was constructed by the author. It was modeled off the Federal Student Aid “Student Loan Entrance Counseling Requirement,” which is a set of trainings that ensures those wishing to take student loans are aware of the terms and conditions of the loan and the rights and responsibilities of the borrower. For more information, see Complete Your Student Loan Entrance Counseling Requirement, Federal Student Aid, https://studentaid.gov/entrance-counseling/ (last visited Nov. 27, 2022).
  • 10
    Individuals can also become SAG-AFTRA members by being a member of an affiliated performers’ union for one year and being paid at least once as a principal performer in that union’s jurisdiction. Steps to Join, SAG-AFTRA  https://www.sagaftra.org/membership-benefits/steps-join (last visited Nov. 27, 2022).
  • 11
    See generally Mark R. Patterson, Standardization of Standard-Form Contracts: Competition and Contract Implications, 52 Wm. & Mary L. Rev. 327 (2010).
  • 12
    This is for a multitude of reasons, including the polarization of legislatures at the state and federal level, the lack of knowledge of the industry from representatives, and the lack of interest from members that do not represent heavy influencer populations.
  • 13
    Masterson, supra note 1, at 580.
  • 14
    Caroline Sisson, All Work and No Play can Make a Kid a Millionaire: Child Labor Laws and the Role of the DOL to Protect Minors in the Growing Industry of Social Media Employment, 7 Am. U. Admin. L. Rev. Accord 160, 175, https://administrativelawreview.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2022/09/ALR-Accord-7.3_Sisson_Cropped.pdf.
  • 15
    Id. at 179.
  • 16
    Id. at 169, 171.
  • 17
    Id. at 171.
  • 18
    Id. at 181.