The Viral Kids Are Not OK

The Viral Kids Are Not OK

On one hand, this kind of content, showing happy families living happy lives, appeals to a lot of people and is an improvement in a culture that often treats marriage, kids, and family life like obstacles to “real” happiness. On the other hand, “momfluencer” culture can be exploitative of kids and the audience who are led to believe that hundred-thousand-dollar staged tableaus are actually candid family moments to which we should aspire. 

Recently, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt launched a Substack newsletter called After Babel to explore the cultural effects of social media which, he says, reminds him of the biblical account of the tower of Babel. Recorded in Genesis, the project seemed like a good idea at first but, in the end, “everything you built together has crumbled, and you can’t even talk together or work together to restore it.”  

Haidt is convinced, as are others, that social media has fueled the exploding mental health crisis among teenagers, especially among adolescent girls. However, if social media is to be consumed, it must first be created. A recent essay at the culture magazine Aeon grapples with how the creation of social media is affecting children on the other side of the iPhone.  

The article, entitled “Honey I Sold the Kids,” asks a reasonable question: “We have laws to protect children from factory work. Why aren’t they protected from parents who monetise their lives online?” The author, a British journalist named Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore, explores the phenomenon of so-called “momfluencers,” or moms (and sometimes dads) who have become social media stars by broadcasting photos, videos, and essays about their personal family lives to ballooning public audiences. Posting intimate YouTube and Instagram videos to millions of followers, showing kids playing, eating, fighting, crying, even being born, is big business. Big brands pay “momfluencers” to use their products in their posts and videos. In 2021, the influencer industry was estimated to be worth 13.8 billion dollars.  

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