Baby Dylan

In a matter of weeks, I will be the proud (and likely terrified) father of a brand new human being. It’s all still very surreal for me and getting ready for this baby has got me thinking about a lot of different things. I’ve had to learn a whole new vocabulary, I’ve had to educate myself about an entirely different product category, and I’ve had to think about what to name the little bugger. And given that I make my living on the Internet, I’ve also had to think about the issue of exploiting your kids online.

The Internet Loves Babies and Children

When it comes to Facebook, Twitter and the increasingly short attention span of the average Internet user, there are few things more popular than cute babies, cute animals and cute baby animals. If you can catch a little kitten doing something silly on video, that could quickly become the next Internet sensation. It might even be meme-worthy.

With this comes the possibility of profit in a monetary sense. However, even when no actual money is involved, there is an inherent value to receiving that kind of attention. Admit it. If you post a funny picture on Instagram and you suddenly receive hundreds of likes and comments, those warm fuzzies can come pouring in. And I don’t know about you, but whenever one of my Facebook friends posts anything related to their wedding or their children, they can likely expect to see more “likes” than the posts that have nothing to do with nuptials or kids.

Is “Exploiting” Too Powerful a Word?

Now, in talking about exploiting your kids online, the very term “exploiting” might be going a little too far. At the same time, it may not be all that far from the truth, especially when they are still infants and clearly cannot speak for themselves. This can go beyond simple “monetizing,” because you are literally taking advantage of a cuteness factor that you yourself may not have.

A prime example of this is the MuggleSam YouTube channel. Sisters Sophia and Bella have effectively been on the Internet since they were mere babies and now the videos that they (or more accurately, their parents) post are hugely popular. Most of the videos feature the girls singing or playing musical instruments. Their “Do You Wanna Build a Snowman?” video has over 12 million views and counting. If we assume a typical $2 CPM for YouTube, that translates to about $24,000 in real money.

Does that kind of money justify “exploiting” your kids for profit? People do it all the time with their pets and that’s considered perfectly acceptable. I posted a video when my bunny had wry neck, for example, and I experienced no ethical qualms about it whatsoever.

The Issues of Safety, Privacy and Independent Choice

Of course, it’s not exactly fair to equate Fido and Fluffy with exploiting your kids. Firstly, you really do have to concern yourself with their safety. As much as we’d like to think that the world is perfectly safe and everyone means no harm, that’s unfortunately not the case. It can be argued that if people know more about your kids, then your kids are more likely to become victims in some way. They can become targets. That’s no small concern.

Even when we get beyond children and infants, we must have an understanding about setting rules and boundaries for what we share online. While I’m quite open with my social media activity, I rarely make explicit mention of friends and family who wouldn’t be equally comfortable having their lives broadcast to the world. And until your kids are much more mature, they can’t really make that decision for themselves either.

Do You Post Your Kids on the Web?

At this point, I’m still struggling immensely with this issue. As can be expected from a “dot com entrepreneur,” I have already registered the domain name and Twitter handle for the baby. At the same time, I haven’t completely decided how I’m going to use them (if at all). My life is my life, but my baby’s life is another matter altogether.

With that, I turn to any parents in the audience. What are your thoughts on “exploiting” your kids online or even publicly sharing any images of your children at all? Is it safe? Is it ethical? Do you do it? Why or why not?

As an aside, you’ll notice that I’ve created a new category here on Beyond the Rhetoric called “Parenting.” As having and raising this child will decidedly be such a big part of my life moving forward, I anticipate it will also have a bigger role on this blog as well. I welcome you to join me on the undoubtedly epic journey to come.