The trending page on YouTube has always been a cesspool of sensationalist thumbnails and clickbait titles, but recently I dared to visit it again, bracing for the worst — and lo and behold, shouting out at me from the screen at #1, was The ACE Family’s newest video: “THE ACE FAMILY OFFICIAL LABOR AND DELIVERY!!!” The bold statement accompanies a theatric photo of Austin McBroom at Catherine Paiz’s hospital bedside, who clutches her newborn son close to her. It certainly makes for an emotional image, and the emergence of new life is always a moment to be celebrated.
If only it weren’t for the infamous — and rightfully earned — reputation of family vloggers, and the disreputable behavior the two parents have displayed in the past, most notably Austin McBroom. For those new to the treacherous realm of family vloggers, beware. The ACE Family has one of the largest fanbases, whose fanaticism rivals that of Jeffree Star stans. With 18.7 million subscribers, an average of 5.34 million views per video, and 3.8 billion total views, they have become a force to be reckoned with, casting dark omens about the future of family vlogging.
Spoiler alert: its popularity is growing at an alarming rate.
After the outrage regarding Myka Stauffer, a lifestyle and family YouTuber who, along with her husband, revealed the rehoming of their adopted son after he suspiciously vanished from their videos, I expected differently. We experienced a startling wake-up call during this incident, leading to informal investigations on not only the financial benefits of their adopted son, but the participation of children on YouTube overall. The adoption of their son was a focal point of their channel, and Myka Stauffer capitalized on that, publicly chronicling much of their journey with him — having him disappear without an explanation was deeply concerning to us.
We, as an audience, were disturbed to learn the truth that the Stauffers were woefully unprepared for the difficulties of raising a child with autism, much less a foreign one, and decided to put him back into the system, likely forcing him through great trauma. Moreover, we were revolted that they continued to profit off of the videos of their adopted son’s struggles.
Child abandonment is not a joke. Unethical "re homing" i.e. laws need to be reviewed. This is an updated thread regarding Myka and James Stauffer's sponsors.
— Mzrants (@artsncraft097) June 5, 2020
While I’ve always avoided family vloggers, this case nauseated me, and I hoped that the YouTube community would finally stray away from channels like the Stauffers. Unfortunately, judging by the prosperity of The ACE Family, it seems that the magnetism of family channels is too powerful to resist. Painfully aware of the history of Austin McBroom, who’s known for his insincerity, blatant lying and shameless ploys for views, their newest video isn’t as heartwarming as it should be.
Instead, I see the corruption of what is meant to be a private, joyful event. I see the distortion of one of the most beautiful memories of parenthood. I see a child who, upon his very first squall, very first breath, has been monetized and broadcasted to millions. And who will probably have the chaotic upbringing consistent with family channels, constantly recorded and pranked and recognized in public. Who, once he gains some semblance of agency, will likely ignored by his parents when he protests against a camera being shoved in his face.
Children do not belong on YouTube, and it’s especially appalling that parents, who are obligated to safeguard their kids’ well-being, are not only allowing it — but actively promoting it, and, perhaps, even ordering their children to cooperate for their channel. Those who argue that children don’t mind the attention, that they permit their parents to capture them this way, are ignoring the fact that children cannot properly consent. There is a reason why statutory rape exists, why supplying alcohol to a minor is considered a criminal offense.
Because, between an adult and someone much younger, an imbalance of power exists. An unequal dynamic exists. We are hardwired to respect those in positions of authority, to succumb to the pressures they place on us, and we are particularly starry-eyed with our parents. I’m sure we all remember our perspectives of our mothers and fathers when we were younger, putting them on a pedestal, practically idolizing them before the shock of realizing their imperfections. Now, imagine that the source of their income, the very reason you had shelter and were able to eat every night, was your cross to bear. Imagine the burden that must be for children of family vloggers.
So, no, children cannot truly consent, and why would they? Who would want a permanent record of all their embarrassing moments? We all cringe when others look at our baby photos — the experience is even worse for these children. Who would want each step of their maturation to be viewed by complete strangers? The utter lack of privacy these children suffer should rock the internet more than it does. I cannot fathom what about family vloggers is in any way entertaining rather than reprehensible. Children deserve the freedom to make mistakes, the peacefulness of having no cares in the world and the security of knowing that their parents act in their best interests.
Clearly, their guardians are not ensuring any of this. The solution? Legal action. Just like child actors who have rights, it’s time we evolve and give YouTube children the same rights. As the fame of family channels continues to skyrocket, so does the urgent need for legislative intervention — there must be concrete guidelines on how children should be treated on social media platforms and severe punishments for those who take advantage of them. The FTC took the first few steps with YouTube sponsorship and affiliate disclosure requirements, but progress is far from finished. Lastly, we, as consumers of media, need to seriously reevaluate our stances on not only the overwhelming presence of family vloggers, but exploitation in other spaces that we may be enabling.
Featured Photo Courtesy of Tiffany Ferg