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Child YouTubers: Their Privacy is Being Swapped for Money

By Zoie Mafe

Mafe wrote this essay in response to a request in ENGL 121to write about pop culture. The goal was try to understand an artifact or event and use resources to do so.

Many people throughout history are all striving for two things: money and fame.  Traditionally, it took someone a while to accumulate a lot of wealth and popularity. Recently, society has found ways via the internet to become famous and earn money without relatively any work or time invested. YouTube is one of those platforms where even a child could become famous quite literally overnight just by uploading a video. Some people have used YouTube to attempt to gain money and recognition, even at the expense of their own children. Some parents have taken videos of their kids growing up and posted those videos on YouTube for potentially all the world to see. Those kids may have hundreds, if not thousands of strangers, watching their daily lives. If a child YouTuber becomes famous enough, their childhood can be ruined because of a lack of privacy.

There are many people that make their living from creating YouTube videos, and a few are earning a lot of money.  For example, Bobby Hoyt, a personal finance expert who helps other millennials earn more through side hustles, says “The top paid YouTubers of 2018 are: Ryan Toys Review [earned] $22 million.” (7) Hoyt goes on to say that the next top paying YouTubers are “Jake Paul [who earned] $21.5 million” (8) and “Dude Perfect [who earned] $20 million.” (9) Based on these huge amounts of cash, many people get tempted to leave their jobs to start a YouTube channel in the hopes that something as simple as posting toy reviews can make that YouTuber a millionaire. Just like Ryan Toys Review, who’s name sake is a little boy named Ryan, there are a few channels run by kids, but who still make a decent amount of cash. One such channel is EvanTube, run by a boy named Evan. Susan Shain, who has contributed to CNN, The New York Times, and The Washington Post, says about Evan “But this nine-year-old’s YouTube videos have more than one billion views and, according to one estimate, earn $1 million a year.” (1) With all these huge of amounts of cash flowing in, other people get encouraged create YouTube channels of their own in the hopes of gaining a lot of money. One type of YouTube channel that is becoming more popular is a channel where all the videos are hosted primarily by a child.

Ryan’s World, a YouTube channel formerly known as Ryan’s Toy Reviews, is centered around an eight-year-old boy named Ryan who makes videos about toy reviews, skits, science experiments, and other things. Samantha Schmidt, a reporter in the Washington Post who covers family issues, reports “When his family started recording and posting the videos in March 2015, the 3-year-old barely had any views let alone reviews, according to a profile of Ryan in Verge.” (9) Since then, his channel has been uploading videos frequently. In Ryan’s World channel, he has been uploading videos every day for at least the past year. Most people had rather private childhoods with only their friends and family being included. Now imagine a portion of everyday a child’s life being recorded, then later posted on the internet for anyone, including strangers, to see and criticize. That is what happens to Ryan and other kids in similar situations.

The lack of privacy could ruin the lives of underage YouTubers because they are becoming too famous. These days, many people are turning to YouTube as a replacement for TV. Amelia Tait, a freelance writer who wrote in the Guardian and who talks about internet phenomena and tech, states, “Some children are bullied simply because they’ve been shown on TV.” (qt in Tait, 9) Tait goes on to say, “Footage of a child that might be fine aged two or three could be very distressing if it was available on the blogosphere when they were 12 or 13.” (qt in Tait, 9) The first quote by Tait can also be interpreted as ‘children can be bullied because they appeared on YouTube when they were younger.’ The quote can be interpreted this way if the assumption that many people are turning to YouTube instead of TV is to be believed. Since people are watching YouTube now more than ever, the children in the videos on YouTube may be bullied because of viral videos of when they were younger, which is similar to what Hollywood child actors go through.

YouTube child stars do many similar things like TV, or Hollywood, child actors do. They all perform to some extent; they all are being videotaped; they all can be potentially viewed by millions of people. If the children of YouTube and Hollywood face the same things, then that means they may both face the same types of problems. Stacey Steinberg, a legal skills professor in the University of Florida Levin College of Law, records the following case regarding a man named Sidis, a former child star from the early 1900s:

Sidis, a child prodigy who came of age in the early 1900s, received national public attention during his minor years. However, when Sidis became an adult, he did not want to remain in the public eye, and he went to great lengths to live a private life… Despite his preference, The New Yorker ran a story about Sidis’s life, providing the reader with intimate details about his secluded existence. Sidis sued The New Yorker, arguing that he had a right to privacy under state law. However, the court disagreed… Despite his wish to retreat into the private sphere and remain hidden from media attention, the court held that remaining out of the public eye was not an option for Sidis, or for any other individual who once held the public spotlight… The court ruled that since Sidis was in the public spotlight as a child, he would remain a public figure for the rest of his life. (52-54)

This means that once parents expose their child to the public eye, it is possible that that child will not be able to live a normal life later on, like going about their daily lives without paparazzi or critics scrutinizing the former child star’s every move. Since we are relating YouTube kid stars to traditional ones, this case implies that YouTube child stars may not be able to grow up and live their lives in peace without the public checking in on their personal life.

Childhood only comes once, and some may take it for granted. Growing up in the privacy of an average kid’s life is essential. Is it worth risking a child’s well-being in order to gain money and recognition for a short period of time? If the YouTube child stars are like their Hollywood counterparts, then the same privacy issues will occur. If a former child star will never be able to lead a normal, private life because of their past popularity, then young YouTubers may never be able to shake the public eye off them as they grow older. Privacy of children should not be traded for temporary money and fame.

Works Cited

Hoyt, Bobby. “How Much Money Do YouTubers Make in 2019? (Top Paid YouTubers).” Millennial Money Man, 3 Apr. 2019, millennialmoneyman.com/how-much-do-YouTubers-make/

Schmidt, Samantha. “6-year-old made $11 million in one year reviewing toys on You Tube.” The Washington Post, 11 Dec. 2017,  www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2017/12/11/6-year-old-made-11-million-in-one-year-reviewing-toys-on-you-tube/

Shain, Susan. “This 9-Year-Old Earns Millions of Dollars Reviewing Toys on YouTube.” The Penny Hoarder, 19 Oct. 2018, www.thepennyhoarder.com/make-money/9-year-old-earns-millions-dollars-reviewing-toys-YouTube/

Steinberg, Stacey. “SHARENTING: CHIDREN’S PRIVACY IN THE AGE OF SOCIAL MEDIA.” ProQuest, 2017, search-proquest-com.lcc.idm.oclc.org/docview/1903824128?pq-origsite=summon

Tait, Amelia. “Is it safe to turn your children into YouTube stars?” The Guardian, 16 Sep. 2015, www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/sep/16/YouTube-stars-vlogging-child-safety-sacconejolys-katie-and-baby

 

Professor Melissa Lucken had this to say about this piece of Zoie Mafe’s writing.” I appreciated that Zioe dug into the Ryan’s World channel and made it a case study for the discussion. I appreciated how she used her sources.  I liked that the conclusion made the topic relevant to non-YouTubers. I suppose if she had time for another step perhaps it might have been helpful to weave in some primary research by posting a comment or two and then reporting what if any responses there had been.”

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