By Bonnie Price, Staff Writer
Upon immediate consideration it seems obvious that the dangers of posting children online exceed any benefits that may exist. Admittedly, we have all read and listened to stories of predatory people lurking online and gaining access to a plethora of information and images of children. Alongside this, the question of consent is another significant factor in this debate; it feels unfair and inappropriate to post children online without asking them first. Of course, this notion of consent is very dependent on age (i.e. a child may give consent to their parent but, at times will often be too young to be considered of appropriate age to actually give this consent). The lines between this argument become very blurred when different individuals consider what the appropriate age to give consent would be and whether babies and infants should be posted before they can even speak. Additionally, it is important to question a parent’s intent behind posting their child. With the rise of online anonymity and access to content it perhaps feels more treacherous of a time than ever, so why would parents even contemplate posting their children online?
Despite the evident risks of posting children via online spaces, I think that there are a range of reasons that we must explore before eliminating the idea entirely. Perhaps the conceivably most pressing reason relates to the notion of normativity. Throughout sociological history, the most common and supposedly stable family structure has been termed as ‘nuclear’, referring to a set of loving married parents and their two children. Data from the ONS in 2020 indicates that out of 15,700 families observed in England, the most dominant structure continues to be married couples with dependent children as opposed to civil partner families, lone-parent families and opposite and same-sex families with dependent children. Whilst this nuclear structure remains prevalent within contemporary society, it can become relatively easy to forget the families that exist outside of this sphere. The online world, however, often reminds us of these different family systems. A few names that spring to mind immediately include Rose and Rosie, Jessica Kellgren-Fozard, Jesse Sullivan and Yasmin Johal. Each of these families are unconventional in one way or another for varying reasons. Jessica-Kellgren-Fozard, for example, posts YouTube videos on navigating family life from a disabled and queer perspective with her wife and newborn. On the other hand, content creator Yasmin Johal shows what it is like becoming pregnant during university and thus having to work out how to balance her studies alongside raising a family with her boyfriend. A final example of a current unique family structure online is Jesse Sullivan, a TikToker creator and trans man, who is raising their teenager in a lone-parent household. From the three examples of family structures discussed above, it is clear that there are a range of families who are not represented in the mainstream media and perhaps turn to social media to show that they do in fact exist. Although some may claim that it is inappropriate or even vain to showcase family life online, it feels as though most of these alternative families online are far from sensationalising themselves for views. Rather, they are creating a space for different family forms to exist and be represented, inevitably normalising diversity.
Needless to say, the internet is not the only place for us to recognise differing familial modes but it would be naive to say it is an insignificant one. As society grows more technological by the second, maybe posting developments of children and families in nonconformist systems encourages an open dialogue around parenting styles and furthermore a sense of community between individuals who share similar or unique family structures. Maybe now, you are asking yourself: but why do these people have to post their children alongside their content? In regards to this claim, I would argue that ultimately through seeing parents and their children we are able to normalise these structures to a greater extent as we can see the dynamics between the families play out in real-time (that is as much as they wish to share with us). The portrayal of children online is still a terrifyingly new and ever adapting notion that is difficult to come to terms with but, I do believe that when it is approached with a sense of vigilance and attentiveness, it can be a worthwhile and meaningful contribution to society.
Sophie McMahon, Comment Print Editor
‘Sharenting’ has become the latest trend of the digital age to raise eyebrows concerning child safety. The portmanteau refers to parents who choose to share photos and videos of their children online, whether that be for family members and friends or for wider audiences on platforms like YouTube or TikTok. Parents are becoming the biggest violators of their children’s privacy, leaving them with harmful digital footprints before they even reach consenting age. With this being said, it is about time that stricter rules are enforced on social media platforms to limit or prevent the posting of children online.
It may seem innocent enough to post a smiling or funny photo of your child online, but according to Common Sense Media by the age of five, children develop an awareness of themselves as individuals and begin to understand how the world around perceives them. Concerning is that on average, by this age, parents have already shared almost 1,500 images of their child. These photos might make them feel embarrassed or self-conscious, especially if they know they can be seen by other peers, which can severely damage their self-esteem. This was corroborated by a CBBC Newsround survey which revealed that a quarter of children whose parents have shared photos of them have been ‘embarrassed or worried by these actions’. Some parents, according to the ‘Growing up with the Internet’ report by the House of Lords, acknowledge that the information they share will embarrass their children, but they never consider their children’s interests before posting.
Some parents claim that through online sharing they are able to obtain advice relating to emotional as well as practical support, in addition to maintaining connections with relatives and friends who may not be local. Increasingly, though, parents are oversharing details such as their child’s full name, childcare location and other identifying information which places their children at risk. In France and Germany, steps have already been taken to stress the importance of protecting children’s private lives, with warnings appearing on social media sites like Facebook. It is about time the UK followed this path, to prevent children from being the target of online trolls or potentially somebody more sinister.
Family channels are one of the major branches of social media that consistently worry audiences with claims of alleged child exploitation. A prime example of this breach in child safety is the ACE Family, who started their YouTube channel in 2016 and have subsequently amassed almost 19 million subscribers. The family consists of parents, Catherine Paiz and Austin McBroom as well as their three children, Elle, Alaia and Steel who are all under the age of five. The main attractions to this family are their children, shown by their spike in views whenever a new addition comes along. They are the breadwinners, and every aspect of their life is shown; from their birth (for Alaia this was watched by 32.5 million people), to their first day at school to even their first date (at the age of just two). For these children, there is no separation between their family home and ‘work’ life, and they have no idea when their parents might bring out a camera and start recording.
I have often, through my own personal consumption of this content (yes, we are all guilty), heard parents like this discuss how they will ask their children if they want to be in videos when they’re old enough. But isn’t this far too late? When they reach consenting age (whenever their parents deem that to be), an entire narrative of their childhood will have been documented across the internet potentially without their knowledge if they are that young.
I think the argument against family channels shifts slightly when you consider YouTubers who were on the platform prior to having children. The prime example is Zoe Sugg, known more commonly by her pseudonym, Zoella. She welcomed her first child, a daughter named Ottilie, in August 2021 with her long-term partner, Alfie Deyes. Although it is obvious that her channel, which has solely been vlogs for the last three years, has shifted to baby and parent content, it seems to be more about her journey into motherhood than focusing heavily on her child thus far. Whilst she does share the occasional clip or Instagram snap of her baby, it is clear that she is making a conscious effort not to overshare. This is nowhere near as harmful as some of the larger family channels, but even just sporadic posts of her child expose her to potential online abuse from practically the moment she was born. To put this into some context, the first photo posted of Ottilie was two days after her birth and has amassed almost 1.7 million likes.
If there is anything to take away from this article, be it if you are a parent or not, is that the internet is forever.