The Most Dangerous Posts on the Internet. By Rosie Willoughby

Influencers. You can’t escape them. Selling their lifestyle, their books, their opinions, and even their families to an audience of millions online. “Mommyblogging” isn’t new, with the earliest blogs starting in the early 2000s with the rise of the internet. But the popularity of YouTube, Instagram and TikTok creators sharing their entire families’ daily lives with viewers is on an unprecedented scale. Like amateur reality television shows, they earn money from the parasocial relationships they build with viewers. This money comes from sponsors and advertising revenue, but there’s no denying the most lucrative thing you can do for your channel: having children.

"...there’s no denying the most lucrative thing you can do for your channel: having children."

From mommybloggers to family vloggers, there’s no doubt you could name five different YouTube families off the top of your head. Often, these brands stem from a solo or couple’s account, which has moved with the pace of their lives; perhaps from beauty or lifestyle content, to pregnancy and parenting. While this seems like a natural step for an influencer’s career to take - after all, it means you can ‘age up’ alongside your audience and monetise your existing life - we don’t look enough at the ethical implications at stake.

These accounts make their money through showing their children. There’s no way around that. And that brings problems. A childhood robbed, lived in front of the camera, exposure on the internet with no consent, a lack of legal protections, and a multitude of safety issues, not to mention the plain question: is it worth it?

And now the children have grown up, and have spoken about the mental toll of being the family breadwinner. In a Cosmopolitan interview with Foresa Latifi, former-vlog-star Vanessa described the resentment and mortification that came with sharing every milestone online. How would you feel if your first menstruation was announced with a sponsored post?

And, if that indignity isn’t enough, when she came of age she found that there was no money put aside for her. Being the face of the brand amounted to nothing: she did it all for free.

Children of influencers have very few legal protections. We’ve seen this play out with child actors, who had to fight for the ability to retain their own earnings. In the US, only Illinois has passed a law to protect underage influencers by requiring compensation for their work. But in the other 49 states, and in the UK, there is no legal obligation for these children to be paid.

As the issue becomes wider publicised, we are finally seeing more debate in this country. With a DCMS report estimating there are as many as 10,000 parent influencers in the UK, MPs have begun to call for investigation and amendments to child labour regulations. It’s only a shame that it has come too late for the first generation of influencer children.

Putting aside the financial burden, we come to perhaps the most well-known issue facing family vloggers. We sometimes look at social media and imagine hate comments to be the worst thing that you could receive. But in the public eye, things can be so much worse.

Hate comments are experienced by pretty much everyone on the internet. Sometimes easy to ignore, sometimes more stinging; but imagine you’re nine. You open your dad’s phone to the stream of comments. They attack your appearance, make sexually explicit comments about your preteen body, they say they wish you had been stillborn. What is that going to do to your mental state? There are words in the messages that you don’t even understand yet, and they are directed at you. But of course, every comment is engagement. And engagement is what fuels your mum’s car, pays the mortgage and sends you on holiday.

"But of course, every comment is engagement. And engagement is what fuels your mum’s car, pays the mortgage and sends you on holiday."

We’ve all seen the geography whizzes on social media. They can find anyone, anywhere, by seeing the corner of a sign; a road marking; a shadow on a tree. Family vloggers, in the pursuit of being ‘real’, show you the outside of their houses (they just painted the front door!), the garden (“Look at the flowerbeds!”) and their children’s school gates (“PJ pick-up again!”). Their pregnancies are intricately tracked and posted online from conception to birth, to “poonamis” and sleepless nights. You see the announcement of little Gracie Bella, born on April 17th at 06:33, weighing 7 pounds at St George’s Hospital. We practically know her birth chart.

Influencers feed us this information, probably not considering the vast file of data that they are uploading. Gone are the days that no one uses their real name on the Internet. With their full names, date and place of birth, it is not hard for someone so-inclined to track them down. These children’s security questions can be parsed just by scrolling through their mum’s Instagram page.

And of course, chances are that you don’t want to do that. Good! But what about someone who is motivated to do this? What are their plans and what could their effects be?

There are places on the Internet where these people linger. They scroll through YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, blogs and more to find what they are looking for. There is no gentle way of saying it; they are looking for images of your children. Images where their dress might have ridden up, where they jump into the swimming pool, or they pull their t-shirt up over their head. Having found it, they circulate it for their own purposes.

The idea that this content is being used for that reason is in itself disgusting. But remember: they can also find out where you live. What could stop them from going to a child’s school? Asking after them in reception? After all, they know their name, date of birth, address, parents names and the name of their best friend. Surely someone with that information must know the child. “What harm could they do?”

Many influencers state that they take precautions on the contexts in which they post images and videos of their children; such as not filming bath, beach or swim-time videos. This reflects that these parents do indeed understand the risks they are putting on their children - and yes, in theory, want to protect them; but they’re also not willing to give up on their revenue stream.

It’s not enough to only limit the type of content that these children are involved in. We need to limit the publishing of their faces, names and every minute detail of their lives. Just one photo could make the difference. With generative AI, a deepfake can be used to ruin someone’s life. Daphne Stevens wrote about the possibility of non-consensual deepfake pornography; when a person’s image is taken and incorporated onto another’s body, often with the intent of humiliating or defaming. I know we don’t want to think about it, but this technology can just as easily be applied to minors. With a clip of a child in a vlog, promoting the latest doll or playing in their sandpit, there is a minefield of potential nefarious uses. In order to pre-empt disaster, we have to worry about what can happen, even if we don’t think it will. We have to make a change to how the rest of us post online, in order to protect those who cannot protect themselves.

Family vloggers make their money from their children. At some point soon, we have to start listening to the children themselves. Their humiliation of being subject to parent’s ‘storytimes’ about their tantrums, their data being purposely published by parents, and the ever-present knowledge that without them, the family’s finances would crumble.

"...the ever-present knowledge that without them, the family’s finances would crumble."

The best way to minimise the risk is by never putting them online at all. The second best way is to stop posting them immediately. Delete the posts. Say goodbye to the extra viewers that you’re getting because you’re exploiting your children. Once you’re in the deep end, it’s hard to quit. But tell me, is it worth it? As a family vlogger you can have all the holidays, toys and sponsored pyjamas you like, but can that ever be worth it when you know that you are exposing your children to danger?