Why sharenting is not simply about parents showing off their kids online…
Blog, hashtag, brunch, sitcom, guestimate, even Internet, blended words are a regular occurrence in our everyday life, and especially so on the Internet. ‘Sharenting’, another one of these blended words, is the direct result of a practice that comes from the diverse uses of social media. First coined by Steven Leckhart, a writer in the Wall Street Journal in 2012. But what exactly is sharenting, it is “the phenomenon of sharing and disclosing intimate information about children in the form of photos, videos, and status by parents through social media [that] is now increasingly widespread.” (Putri et al., 2019).
A lot of parents are becoming influencers and relate their everyday life on different platforms and especially on Instagram. They have relatable content for other parents, show the life of their children and are open about the struggles and happy moments of their parenting journey. They can also use their accounts to advocate for certain types of parenting such as cultural or religious ones. It can also be a source of income for the parents, helping them lead a more comfortable life. Yet, what seems to be only naive and simple content can be proven to be much more complex than originally thought.
It seems that while the GDPR views children as vulnerable parties, it places on the responsibility of their online image to the parents and their own judgement and did not put any clause concerning ‘sharenting’. It did not take in consideration the possibility of having influencers as parents and therefore, being part of their online image and overly exposed on the different accounts of their parents. The online image of children is subjected solely to their parents’ decisions and before they can hold a phone, they do not get a say on if they have a dedicated Instagram page where their parents impersonate them or not.
Indeed, this sudden rise of the blogger parent leads to a lot of debate around the privacy of their children.
It might be too early to assert this but not a lot of teenagers would be fine with parents telling the internet of every single little thing they did since they were a toddler and having videos of their private discussions. Influencers parents do not all have the same ways of handling the private life of their children. Some prefer to blur they face out and use nicknames to avoid having their full name on display. Others prefer to not do that and let their children faces untouched, have their names and location shown. This could be explained by either the decision to focus on their parenting experience rather than on their children, or not knowing the potential negative effects that could take place.
« ACT LIKE YOU’RE CRYING »
Beyond privacy issues, much more pressing questions are being brought to light. Ethics have a lot to do in sharenting. Children become the primary monetization tool of their parents’ main source of revenue. This can lead to dubious situations where parents put their children in tough situations to have ‘great’ content. A YouTube clip that trended on twitter in September of 2021 shows an influencer named Jordan Cheyenne filming her son crying and trying to make him pose for a thumbnail. Cheyenne did not keep this clip deliberately, she accidentally uploaded it, unedited at the end of one of her videos. She can be heard saying “Act like you’re crying” to which her son replied “But I am crying”. After the backlash she received she decided to not include her son in her videos anymore.
Gwyneth Paltrow also divided the public opinion, as she often does, after posting a picture with her daughter on Instagram. Her fourteen-year-old daughter left a now-deleted comment on the publication “Mom, we have discussed this. You may not post anything without my consent.”
This divided the opinion between the ones finding it normal for a mother to decide on which pictures of her daughter to post without waiting for consent first. The other part thought that she should have listened to the clear opposition of her daughter who is old enough to know whether she wanted to have this picture posted online for millions of followers to see or not. Gwyneth Paltrow, when wishing a happy birthday to her daughter, included a screenshot of a conversation with “apple approved birthday posts” as there is no “need to break the old Internet again”.
Like all things on the Internet, users have strong opinions on the matter and the debate of how to manage the online image of children is ongoing. On tiktok, a lot of parents show their everyday life with their children or film some quirky things that their child does and that can make a video go viral. Under these videos, users comment on their parenting skills and whether they should put their children on the internet.
Many vlogging families have had controversies and the extent to which they went to make content has backfired. The ACE family, a well-known vlogging family has already had many scandals, one of them because of a video first posted on Snapchat and then uploaded on Twitter. In the video, Austin McBroom, the father can be seen filming a young child holding a penis-shaped lollipop. Another vlogging family adopted an autistic child from China and documented every step of the journey for more than three years. All of the videos of the child and some Instagram posts were monetized. They then made the decision to legally terminate the adoption and placed the child in another temporary family and did not beforehand delete the videos with him. When faced with a lot of accusations from their followers, they decided to make an explanation video, did not mention their adoptive son again and proceeded to go back to their regular scheduled content.
Unlike cinema, theater or modelling, there are no child labour law that exists regarding monetized social media exposure. It is essential for them to be created; however, it would be difficult to truly monitor how long influencers film their children and how demanding of them they are. Furthermore, as they are children, their consent and willingness to appear on social media are also impossible to supervise.
However, here is the worst-case scenario for any parent sharing their child’s photos on Instagram. A true nightmare became true for a British mother who was notified by her friends of an awful Russian website that contained thousands of children images. She found pictures that came from her public Instagram profile of her toddler on it, including one where she had been heavily photoshopped to have lipstick and mascara. Underneath the pictures were graphic comments posted by users. The mother said that these comments were ‘mild’ compared to other ones underneath different pictures. She has been contacting charity foundations to help her to get this website banned, and she has been trying to raise awareness on this issue.
From privacy issues to ethical problems, it seems that raising children online is tougher than just posting candid pictures for the grandparents to see. Children are to be shielded by their parents online, as to achieve that, parents should be better informed of every aspect of posting pictures or videos of their children online. What might seem like an innocent and cheerful action can easily turn into a problematic situation.
Emma Le Vourch
Blum-Ross, A. and Livingstone, S., 2017. “Sharenting,” parent blogging, and the boundaries of the digital self. Popular Communication, 15(2), pp.110-125.
Chen, T., 2019. The Dad Of A Popular YouTube Family Channel Is Being Accused Of Sexualizing A Child After Buying Her A Phallic-Shaped Lollipop. [online] BuzzFeed News. Available at: <https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/tanyachen/dad-of-youtube-channel-the-ace-family-called-disgusting-for> [Accessed 25 April 2022].
Donovan, S. (2020) ‘“Sharenting”: The Forgotten Children of the GDPR’, Peace Human Rights Governance, 4(1), 35-59.
Middleton, L., 2022. Mum horrified after finding pictures of her baby on paedophile website. [online] Metro. Available at: <https://metro.co.uk/2020/08/18/mum-horrified-finding-pictures-baby-paedophile-website-13143110/> [Accessed 1 May 2022].
Moscatello, C., 2020. Why Did These YouTubers Give Away Their Son?. [online] The Cut. Available at: <https://www.thecut.com/2020/08/youtube-myka-james-stauffer-huxley-adoption.html> [Accessed 1 May 2022].
Putri, N., Harkan, A., Khairunnisa, A., Nurintan, F. and Ahdiyat, M., 2019. Construction of “Sharenting” Reality for Mothers Who Shares Children’s Photos and Videos on Instagram. Advances in Social Science, Education and Humanities Research, 558, pp.782-788.