Just for a second, imagine if your parents gained their success and wealth by recording the daily life of your family to share with the internet. Whether it’s sharing your morning routine for school, eating dinner with your family, celebrating significant life events, or socializing with your family, there will usually be a camera ready to capture all your live reactions and emotions. Now, I’m assuming not all of you would be too thrilled with the prospective life I’ve described. While it might be fun for a while, the realization that privacy is limited and that you are your family’s source of income can be daunting. In America, this is the reality for many families and children.
If you’re unfamiliar with the topic, family vloggers are a subcategory of vloggers in the YouTube community. On these channels, the content centers around the family and their daily lives. But truthfully, the children are the main attraction for people watching the vlogs. On many of these channels, the parents center their content around their children’s lives, whether it be their school routines, social activities, or even intimate moments that should be kept private. While most of their content is lighthearted and entertaining, it also raises the question of whether there should be a limit to the kind of content that these parents are allowed to post of their children.
The concept of family vlogging originated from the family vlogging channel called Shaytards in 2008. Since then, many more popular families have emerged, a few notable ones being the Ace Family, the LaBrant Family, and the 8 Passengers. From a distant perspective, they provide their viewers with wholesome content of their perfect functional family getting along and laughing with one another. Especially during the pandemic, it was comforting to watch families remain balanced in such a confusing time. In my experience, I loved watching these family channels when I was younger because I liked being able to watch families experience fun events that I wasn’t able to experience myself. As a child of two hard-working parents who weren’t able to take my siblings and I on vacations often, I liked being able to watch happy and connected families enjoy experiences such as Disneyland. Even if it was just a video, the way their content was structured made me feel that I had been invited into their home to spend the day with them.
But with a closer look, the unfortunate reality is that for many of these families, it can seem like the children involved are being exploited. While not all families involved with vlogging have bad intentions, the recent events involving the family channel titled 8 Passengers have forced viewers to be more aware of the consequences.
Led by Ruby Franke, 8 Passengers was one of the biggest family vlog channels on YouTube. The channel consisted of Ruby, her husband Kevin Franke, and their six children. While the family held a perfect image online, Ruby Franke was recently arrested for two counts of aggravated child abuse, cracking their neat bubble and destroying the high regard that viewers once held for them. But more importantly, Franke’s arrest has raised concerns about the children in these families and has allowed us to see how much of their lives and their personal experiences are up for grabs to be filmed.
Under close scrutiny, it’s clear that there’s no distinction between moments that should be classified as private to the moments that are acceptable to film. A few videos on the 8 Passengers channel about bra shopping and their children being taught to shave their legs make it clear that the moments many people perceive as intimate and personal are also being seen as profitable.
The actions of these children are constantly being scrutinized and judged by the audience, turning the small mistakes they might make into public scandals, resulting in people gossiping and commenting online about situations that should have been handled privately.
Even if the children do consent, younger children are incapable of fully understanding what their permission means, making their response an uninformed one. Even though older children do understand what it means to be filmed, it seems like it would be difficult to express their preference not to be on camera when they understand that this sacrifice provides for their family financially.
While these families seem perfect, the fall of the 8 Passengers brings awareness to the possible exploitation of the children in these families and reminds us to never fully trust what we see on the internet.