Family Vlogs Are Dangerous: Should YouTubers put their kids online and risk them having restricted childhoods and unwanted fame?
The family vlog (video log) is a form of online video content about a family’s daily lives or activities (Talukdar, 2020). This could include them cooking, shopping, playing games, among any of their daily routines, often uploaded on the YouTube platform. Family vlogging channels fall under the category of DIY Celebrities that Abidin (2018) refers to in their book, Internet Celebrity: Understanding Fame Online. DIY celebrities are non-traditional celebrities who gain fame through self-branding, content production and direct communication with their fans (Abidin, 2018). The everydayness of these channels is what captivates viewers (Abidin, 2018).
Although they are light-hearted and family-friendly, the popularity of family-oriented vlog channels poses a risk to the children involved in these videos. Firstly, mental distress is one of the reasons cited for the dangers of family vlogging. As greater profits and fame are granted to family vloggers, parents may neglect the needs of their children in favour of profits and views. The attention economy, which requires people to constantly be engaged on their devices, also puts pressure on creators to be consistently entertaining (Abidin, 2018). A real-life example of a family vlog channel that exploited their children for views and profit was the Martins (also known as FamilyoFive on YouTube). Their vlogs often contained ‘pranks’ in which the father and mother would cause their children undue mental and emotional distress. This continued abusive treatment finally led to the couple losing custody of their two children. The Fantastic Adventures YouTube channel was taken down after their mother, withheld food and water from them when they did not follow her video making directions.
Another issue with family vlogs is that of consent. Some family vloggers claim that they have conversations with their children about their desires to vlog, and give them the choice to record or not (Dunphy, 2017). Even so, is it possible for children to explicitly demand that they do not want to feature in videos when they are encouraged by their parents?
Thirdly, sometimes the content of family vlogs is sensitive to the children featured in them. YouTube vloggers make videos about their children’s puberty, physical appearance, disciplinary treatment, among others (Ward, 2020). Such private information, when broadcast to millions of subscribers put children at risk of cyber-bullying, in-person harassment and embarrassment.
I disagree with the assertion made by Tait (2015) that there is a difference between child Hollywood stars and child YouTube stars. This belief is what has allowed for unrestricted content production on the YouTube platform. Child YouTube stars on highly-engaged channels such as The Shaytards, have regular filming schedules and constant requirements to engage with the camera, similar to young actors in the entertainment industry. Unfortunately, unlike their acting counterparts, they do not have laws that guide their work lives.
As I am writing this, there are no laws that protect child vloggers from abuse and harm. Rather, child protective services trust parent vloggers to do the best for their children. I believe that regulation needs to be put in place to protect child internet performers. If a family creates content that primarily includes minors, they should be reviewed regularly by child protective services agents to make sure that their homes are free of abuse, content shared is not harmful to the children featured in them and that they are not over-worked in the production of these videos.