Internet Privacy For Kids

With the rise of family content on Tiktok and YouTube, where is the line drawn for parental exploitation of their children and their compensation?

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By Joey Chen

Recently, a TikTok of a mother showing her 12 children living in an RV went viral. The bunk beds were cramped, and the majority of the comments showed concern for the kids. In fact, the mother’s entire TikTok page was about her kids and their personal lives, which highlights the issue of internet privacy for the kids of influencers and at what point it becomes exploitation. Though the “Facebook mom” meme is quite relatable, a question of morality arises when an influencer mom relies on her children to bring in income for the household.

Oversharing on the internet can lead to psychological issues for children because their formative years are spent with a camera in their faces and a parent eagerly hoping that their video goes viral. A study by the International Journal of Research and Analytical Reviews found that when children constantly appear in vlogs, their mental health and growth are affected, predisposing them to depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem due to their growing up with thousands, if not millions, of people watching their personal lives. In the YouTube channel 8 Passengers, which has not posted in over a year, parents Kevin and Ruby vlogged their children. Around the same time they stopped posting, their oldest daughter, Shari Franke, posted on an Instagram story saying, “It is true that I am not in contact with my immediate family, and I do not support the extreme beliefs of ConneXions [Ruby’s parenting advice website].” Family vlogging can ruin relationships between parents and children while also harming the children emotionally because of the strain of providing income and entertaining, exploitative content.

In February, Chris McCarty, a student at the University of Washington, presented bill HB 1627, which aims to protect and advocate for children in family vlogs that generate revenue for the household. The bill would require influencer parents to create funds for their children for when they become adults. The law would only go into effect if the video makes at least 10 cents per view and the kids are in at least 30 percent of the content. Not only is compensation a huge problem, but the digital footprint of the children is also something to keep in mind because most of them are so young that they cannot comprehend the lasting impacts that a vlog may have on their life.

This draws an interesting parallel to many child stars of Hollywood, such as Judy Garland and Shirley Temple, who were abused and exploited for money. It echoes the dilemma of child actors in the mid- to late 1900s, many of whose work was uncompensated and stolen by their parents and guardians. In the age of social media, it is much easier for parents to gain attention, and using their children to garner views, whether it be with the shock value of 12 kids in an RV or embarrassing thumbnails, is damaging to the child. The Norris Nuts are a family vlogging YouTube channel with over six million subscribers, and their six children are the main focus of their videos. But their clickbait titles and thumbnails—such as “SABRE BROKE DOWN IN THE WILD w/Norris Nuts,” “SHE FAILED & SHAMED THE FAMILY ? w/Norris Nuts,” and “​​SHE WAS RUSHED TO HOSPITAL…”—are examples of dramatizing the children’s lives to the point of exploitation for viewership and money. McCarty says that the personal information shared online by parents leaves out the future of the child, as when they are older, they may feel regret, pressure, or shame from their digital footprint.

Children’s internet privacy has been a subject of debate for a long time, especially as more parents share their journeys on social media. Some celebrities such as Kylie Jenner and Gigi Hadid, who have spent a lot of their adolescent years in the public eye, have stopped posting their young children’s faces online or sharing stories at all. But influencers who post their daily lives feel a necessity to include their kids. The Hollywood problem was dealt with, in part because exploitation by the elites is still a huge factor in the industry, by putting in place strict child labor laws for child actors. Now, most large networks like Disney enforce these to a large extent, as the backlash for exploiting children would be immense. Of course, there are still many cases of emotional and physical abuse in the child acting industry, such as Jennette McCurdy from iCarly, who was abused since she was a child by her mother and a producer from the show. Unfortunately, since YouTubers and TikTokers are independent, there is no way to enforce that their children are only on camera for a certain amount of time or that they are being properly compensated. Furthermore, if a child consents to a video, they could regret it in a couple of years, so emotional exploitation is harder to pin down.

Despite all of these obstacles in the way of regulating this content, the best option is McCarty’s bill because it ensures compensation for children if they contribute a substantial amount of money to their parents. Children’s privacy and their consent to the filming and posting of this content is based on educating influencers, parents, and social media consumers on the effects of using children for content. Once a bill that ensures children aren’t getting exploited is put into effect, it will help promote awareness of the dangers of oversharing on the internet while including children in exaggerated, personal content. Social media exposure to young adults and adults has been proven to cause damage to mental health, so for children who are pressured or forced by their parents to interact with it, the socioemotional effects could be exacerbated tenfold.