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Cry for the camera: the ethics of family vloggers


Remember when you were seven years old and your first pet hamster died? Do you remember how, instead of comforting you, your mom pulled out the camera and recorded you crying for your family’s YouTube subscribers? Maybe you don’t, but for some children of family vloggers, this is a reality. In recent news, family vlog mom Ruby Franke of the “8 Passengers” YouTube channel was arrested and charged with six counts of aggravated child abuse. It appears that Franke’s arrest prompted a mass questioning of the ethics of family vlogs. 

If you’re anything like me, you probably grew up immersed in the world of YouTube. When I was younger, I would live vicariously through the children of wealthy vlog families as they led me through their trips to Disneyland, their first school dance, their morning routines, and other aspects of their daily lives. As a child, it’s hard to see what goes on behind the scenes in order for these families to produce their content. However, the older I got, the more obvious the exploitative nature of living one’s entire life in front of a camera became to me. These vlog families invite you to experience their happy moments, but more often than not, they do not publicize moments of grief, embarrassment, and failure that should be respected with privacy. 

This is not to say that I consider all family-oriented social media accounts to be inherently exploitative. There are a lot of positive aspects of having families share their lives online; this can create communities, help parents and children alike not feel so alone, and entertain children with appropriate content. 

So, what’s the difference between a vlog family that “appropriately” entertains and a vlog family that exploits their children for views? Consent. Babies, toddlers, and children do not have a say in whether they appear in their parent’s videos. Recently, people have been lobbying for vlog families to wait until their children are old enough to consent to having a social media presence before involving them in videos. 

I, for one, consider myself to be at the forefront of the movement towards emphasizing a child’s consent over their parent’s will for them to appear online. How is it fair that a parent gets to decide whether it’s alright to share a video of their child grieving their dead hamster? To that, I say: put the camera down and comfort your child.


Kaya Stark is from Wrenshall, Minn.

Her majors are English and philosophy.

Kaya Stark
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