Most of us have a favorite influencer — someone we look up to, someone we want to be like, or simply someone we enjoy seeing pop up on our feed. As it is their job, influencers share a lot of their personal lives on the internet, but at what cost?
To answer this question, one must first define the role and responsibilities of a modern-day influencer. Influencers, also referred to as content creators, provide digital forms of content posted or streamed over various social media platforms, such as TikTok, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, Twitch, and more.
There are various types of creators. For example, niche creators make videos for a specific group of people. To explain, a niche creator for the fitness industry would solely post content focusing on working out and staying healthy.
However, other influencers are famous because people enjoy following their day-to-day activities. People find this specific content enjoyable since it makes others’ “real life” seem so much more interesting and outlandish.
Nonetheless, this genre of content creation has sparked some controversy as it requires influencers to share the ins and outs of their life for the sake of making money.
The first issue arises when content creators monetize their loved ones.
Mary Harris, MA, APR, Specialist Professor for the Department of Communication and Journalism/PR Program Director, said, “One concern of influencers sharing personal content or family information is that that information gives individuals, companies, and institutions access to private data. For instance, sharing childhood milestones can become a matter of health privacy in the future.”
The Labrant Fam is one of the most popular family influencer accounts, primarily posting on YouTube and TikTok. Their accounts are run by couple Savannah and Cole, and their content exclusively features videos of their children’s personal lives.
Savannah and Cole exploit their children for likes and views, or in other words, they monetize their family. According to Forbes, YouTubers make $5 for every 1,000 views. According to Social Blade, The Labrant Family averages about 4 million views per video. With over 500 videos posted to their channel, it is safe to say they are making quite a bit of money off of videos of their children.
The rising fame of the Labrant Fam triggered a trend of parents posting embarrassing or personal videos of their children on the Internet in hopes of being noticed. Besides the innate invasion of privacy, these children are not old enough to consent.
Harris continued, “Children cannot consent to their privacy being exploited in this manner.” Often too young to understand what is going on, these children will face real-world implications when they grow up.
There are also some serious dangers of posting children on the Internet. The TikTok account Wren.Eleanor, run by Jacquelyn Paul, features only videos of her three-year-old daughter, Wren. This account has caught the attention of many adult men who make inappropriate comments under the account’s posts. It is also alarming to look at the high number of saves Wren’s videos accumulate compared to most other videos on TikTok.
As sad as it may be, Jacquelyn Paul’s account is not necessarily out of the ordinary. Many parents post videos of their children on TikTok, acquiring the same inappropriate reaction from adults. There are obvious predators on TikTok, even if they are trying to stay hidden.
Because videos of toddler-age children attract more views and saves, parents continue to post their children; popular videos rake in most money.
Even if influencers do not have children, they can still monetize loved ones in inappropriate ways. David Dobrik, arguably one of the most popular and successful YouTubers, was likewise accused of exploiting his circle for views. Dobrik allegedly put himself and loved ones into dangerous situations to film videos that would likely generate views and, therefore, revenue.
The idea of influencers sharing their whole real lives on the internet while remaining entertaining is simply unrealistic— no one’s life is that interesting. Therefore, when influencers who exclusively share posts about their personal lives run out of content, they are forced to create and fabricate new, exciting content. Hence, the large following of lifestyle influencers.
Harris argued, “It is human nature to be curious about the lifestyles of others. However, this is the first time in history that people have been given access to following the lives of pseudo-public figures who are strangers to them in real life. It gives people a sense of false community and perhaps fandom, and the trend grows.”
This is what makes social media so dangerous; consumers forget that online content is manipulated to appear genuine.
Most people are aware of the negative effects social media can have on people’s mental wellbeing; however, this specific content can create distorted ideas of reality. Individuals will begin to reflect on their own lives, questioning why their life is not nearly as “glamorous” or “perfect” as the influencer’s life they are constantly seeing.
Harris added, “As the saying goes, comparison is the thief of joy.”
It is easy to argue that influencers chose this life for themselves, thus they should deal with the backlash and consequences. Nevertheless, it is unfair and harmful to their loved ones whom they make money off of, as well as the consumers of such content.