By: Anna Cox
The mainstream entertainment industry has implemented laws and regulations that are meant to prevent the exploitation of child stars. But, the same attention has not been paid to social media influencers. The job title “family vlogger” has risen in popularity since the birth of social media sites like Youtube. Parents with lives that they deem “unique” will film their daily lives with their children being the spotlight. These videos are very profitable, with Youtube giving them the best ads and pushing them on the home page due to their “family-friendly” content. But, there are no laws that directly protect the rights of children on social media. Families on Youtube have taken advantage of this lack of attention and amassed followings in the millions by filming their children for the internet before they are old enough to give consent. And although what they are doing is legal, is it moral?
Children being the focal point of this content has proven to be successful, but not all family channels do this. Channels like the Holderness Family don’t make their children the main event of their videos. And, although their content may be repetitive and poorly written, it’s bad because they are just unfunny people who are exploiting their children. Now, put that in contrast to someone like the Labrant Family, who’s entire channel is dedicated to their three children. The Labrant Family has been in many controversies surrounding their incessant need to humiliate their eldest daughter for online content. From dying her skin purple to telling her that they are going to give away her dog, the parents, Savannah and Cole, seem to understand that videos like this gain a high amount of traction. They completely disregard that their daughter may not want these videos on the internet in the future and use her embarrassment as “entertainment”. To make the situation even sadder, they have been filming their seven year old daughter since she was about three years old, making this something consistent and normal in her life. And their younger children, both being under the age of five, have known social media fame since before they were infants, with Savannah’s entire pregnancy being documented. It’s common amongst family vloggers to start filming their kids from a very young age. The ACE Family, a channel with 18 million subscribers, similarly uses their children for content. Their eldest daughter has been filmed by them since she was 2 months old, and their youngest had her life documented since infancy. The ACE Family does content similar to that of the Labrant Family, with questionable thumbnails and video subjects that try to paint their daughter in a more mature light. They even had a video “ELLE GOES ON HER FIRST DATE”, which is odd considering that she is five years old. But, there is one case where a child’s naivety and unfamiliarity was exploited.
The most extreme case of child exploitation by family vloggers can be seen on Myka Stauffer’s channel. In 2016, Stauffer and her husband announced to their fans that they would be adopting a child from China with a brain tumor. But, in 2017 when they brought their child home, they found out that he had a stroke in utero, autism, and a sensory-processing disorder. Stauffer continued to document her journey with the child for two-and-half years, having him in sponsored posts and entire videos dedicated to teaching him things like the alphabet and habits to break. In many of her teaching videos, she would use harsh and abusive techniques, like taking his hands so he would learn not to suck his thumbs. But, in May of 2020, Myka and her husband announced that they were going to “re-homing” the child. They decided that they were not as prepared for a child with autism as they once thought, but only after they plastered his face and name on the internet. The child was only a toddler throughout his entire stay with the Stauffers, making these years in his life crucial to his development. He is now in a new home, but his face and name are forever on the internet without his consent. This entire situation seems like a device in order to diversify their family and, in turn, gain more views. After a year of backlash, Stauffer has deleted her channel, but the damage was already done.
With the internet being as accessible as ever, the surge of a new style of content is inevitable, but the use of children as entertainment is nothing new. While it may be packaged and presented in a newer way than child actors, it is not that different. There needs to be regulations, not only put in place, but that are enforced regarding children of family vloggers. Youtube’s community guidelines do say that you need to be at least 13 years old to be on the website, but–as it stands now–they don’t stop these parents from putting their elementary-aged children on their channel and as a ticket to their six-figure lifestyle. And that’s a shame.