When scrolling through TikTok, I occasionally come across videos of children, ranging in age from newborns to 8 years old, making adorable gestures. These short clips show kids making charming faces, doing humorous dances, blabbering curse words, or any other behavior sure to capture the attention of millions of viewers suffering from baby fever.
Such content, which is frequently provided by their parents, tends to focus on the young ones’ routines; viewers get a peek into what the children eat, how they dress, what they play, where they reside, and what their basic routine looks like. As a result, social platforms have seen the growth of “baby influencers,” and step-by-step tutorials on how to monetize your own baby continue to emerge. However, the more videos like these I watch, the more I wonder about the consequences of exposing children to social media and making them public to a wide audience at such a young age.
To begin with, as the topic of consent becomes ever more present, baby content on social media has raised questions about the extent to which the child desires to be filmed. After all, an individual cannot be photographed, videotaped, or recorded without their permission. However, while platforms restrict the ability of users to post content of other of-age individuals without consent, they disregard the fact that many parents actively violate the right to digital privacy of their own children. Worse, they profit from it by monetizing their children’s accounts and negotiating sponsorship deals with baby and child-related brands.
While some may claim that children are too young to make rational judgments about whether or not to be videotaped for the sake of a viral Instagram Reel, they will grow up… And once they do, not only might they have negative retrospective thoughts about the content, but they will also have a pre-existing digital footprint built by their own parents. After all, what is shared online stays online, and if children are shown in popular accounts, the content and image generated have the potential to shape how society views them in the long run.
In other words, as parents monetize from their innocence, these kids grow up in a society that has previously had access to intimate details of their childhood, relationships, and behavior, thus losing their right to establish their own identity.
Furthermore, aside from the issue of consent, we must consider the risk of exposing children to anonymous and untraceable individuals. Indeed, a sizable number of online users utilize social media for illegal purposes, such as the production or consumption of child pornography. These people are also to blame for the growth of encrypted Discord links, which allow incognito users to exchange or purchase content involving children. Criminals and sex offenders can thus target “baby influencers” and influential underage users to make such content due to the simplicity with which they may obtain content from public profiles. Essentially, they feed on parents’ misguided decision to make their children visible to millions of people, which can also make them vulnerable to blackmail, stalking, and grooming.
Extortion is also a risk for children whose photos are continuously uploaded online by their parents. Moreover, by providing followers unrestricted access to their children’s relationships, routines, and environments, parents also put themselves and their families at danger of coercion. Criminals can use such information to create hyperdetailed and developed narratives or threats to blackmail the child or their relatives under false or actual pretenses. Similarly, skilled forgers can obtain security codes, insurance accounts, and other sensitive information from the accounts of celebrity children or their parents. They can even build entire portfolios of “baby influencers” and other prominent underage figures in order to create counterfeit accounts and even steal their identities.
Don’t get me wrong: it’s appalling that we as a society have to deal with the depraved behaviors of sexual deviants and internet criminals, and it’s not the parent’s fault that their children may come into contact with these people online. Nonetheless, knowing what we know, it is our job – and that of all parents – to acknowledge the existence of these threats and to take proactive steps to safeguard children from them.
I fully agree, criminals like these should not exist, but they do, so what are you going to do about it?
Now, beyond the dangers of the digital era, it is also crucial to note that early exposure to social media can result in serious mental health problems. For instance, being regularly recorded and photographed for the goal of gaining views throughout childhood might lead to a perpetual feeling of being observed and judged. Furthermore, these feelings can result in social anxiety and isolation, as well as depression and the development of eating disorders. And beyond causing behavioral changes, children with popular social media profiles can be prone to be bullied at school, which can lead to issues in adolescence and adulthood. Simply said, if there has already been extensive study on the effects of social media on our mental health and social interactions, how much more extreme might these become if exposure begins at such a young age?
This article is not intended to belittle women or other family members who post the occasional image of their kids on Facebook or Instagram. After all, the fundamental aim of social media is to share one’s own life, and children are frequently a part of it. Instead, this piece seeks to demonstrate how, while children have the same basic rights as adults, a sense of superiority and ownership, along with weak regulation, has unjustly awarded parents authority over the majority of these rights. In other words, we have normalized the deprivation of children’s individuality, and posting them online without their consent or consideration of the implications, is only one of many ways we have done so.
Yes, I feel that women should be able to utilize social media to share their motherhood stories, information, insights, and experiences. Nonetheless, we must initiate a discussion about how and to whom such content is distributed. We may avoid many of the risks hiding in the digital realms by concealing our children’s faces when publishing them online, keeping our profiles private, or simply keeping them away from influencer trends. Additionally, legal action is essential for users to reconsider the relationship they wish to develop between their children and social media sites. Companies can make a difference by prohibiting the monetization and sponsorship of children’s accounts and promoting “momfluencers” who keep their children away from the camera. Whatever the answer, we must change our ways and stop compromising our children’s individuality, privacy, and well-being for the sake of a verified Instagram account.
Featured image by: Korchagin / Shotterstock