As lifestyle content has grown in popularity on different social media platforms, the popularity of family-specific lifestyle content, usually called family vlogging, has as well.
Although some parents choose to share their experiences and stories secondhand, many popular family vlogging channels feature children on camera frequently. In some circumstances, parents’ intentions of sharing their kids’ childhoods online may be to share their family’s joy and experiences with the world around them, but others can have more sinister intentions.
One of the most egregious and infamous family vlogging channels that has garnered significant controversy has been the (now deleted) YouTube channel “8 Passengers.”
The channel was run by the mother, Ruby Franke, and her husband and featured their six children. The channel garnered several controversies throughout its run, all surrounding extremely harsh parenting decisions made by the Franke parents. A string of their controversies have surrounded their treatment of their son Chad and the filming and publishing of videos highlighting cruel punishments he endured. Playing pranks on his younger brother resulted in Chad losing the “privilege” of sleeping in a bedroom, instead being forced to sleep on a beanbag for over seven months. On another occasion, he was sent to a “wilderness therapy” camp, a part of the “troubled teen” industry that has come under fire, as survivors of these camps share their stories of abuse within the camps that has left them to spending years trying to heal.
The family’s situation escalated on Sep. 1, 2023, when Ruby Franke and her business partner Jodi Hildebrant were officially charged with six counts of aggravated child abuse after events that unfolded in the days prior.
One of Franke’s sons was hospitalized to treat malnutrition and lacerations he suffered from being tied up with rope, and one of their daughters was hospitalized later that day for malnutrition as well. All of the Franke children under the age of 18 have officially been taken into state custody in Utah, and their oldest daughter, who is now an adult, has cut off all contact with her parents.
The case of the “8 Passengers” channel illustrates an extreme example of parents utilizing their children for financial gain on the internet by using their children for internet content all while mistreating them and sharing this mistreatment on the internet. Even when parents have morally upright intentions when sharing their children online, there are many dangers for their children down the line that are not always considered. As a child grows into adolescence and their peers begin to have their own online presence, there is a potential for their younger moments shared online to be used against them by bullies. As they grow into their own online presence, they may also grow to resent stories and photos of them shared online without their consent that do not align with the online image that they want to curate for themselves.
On a more sinister note, the photos of a child’s likeness posted online can easily be used for extremely untoward purposes by those not within the parents’ intended audiences. When photos contain any sorts of identifying information, such as an address or details that share a child’s exact birthdate, this opens them for the possibility of identity theft at a young age.
Unfortunately, photos taken with an innocent motivation can also be co-opted for usage within rings of child predators. Beyond the inappropriate personal usage of posted photos, predators can take photos of children to make fake profiles on social media to get other children to trust them enough to start conversations with them. Undesired internet fame can compromise a child’s social life, safety and online footprint for the rest of their life when they are shared online for years without any control of the rhetoric being shared about them.
Meanwhile, family vlogging channels will utilize their platform in an attempt to justify and glorify unethical and abusive parenting methods that will scar their children and damage their relationship with them irreparably.