“Adoptive children, in particular, are already more vulnerable to feeling like they have to earn their keep or to feeling like if they don’t perform, that they’ll be given back or given away,” Goldman said. “I think with any kid who is a social media presence or star, it’s healthy to regularly check back in with the child to make sure that they don’t feel that their world and love is conditional on their performance.”
The allegations stunned other YouTube stars. Tawny and Zeb Schnorr, who have a channel called “Extreme Toys TV,” briefly collaborated with a couple of Hackney’s children and noticed nothing suspicious.
“That’s what hurts me the most is that I didn’t see it,” Zeb Schnorr said.
Signs of abuse are not always obvious. But oftentimes, trained professionals can spot red flags that would have gone unnoticed by the general public.
Lynn Schofield Clark, author of “The Parent App: Understanding Families in a Digital Age” and professor and chair of media, film and journalism studies at the University of Denver, said she wondered if there is a need for some kind of independent agency that could serve as a watchdog for social networks — an idea recently floated in the United Kingdom by the London School of Economics and Political Science as a way to reduce the spread of misinformation online.
“A Band-aid solution would be to tell YouTube, ‘you need to hire people with expertise in child abuse,’ because I think someone would be able to flag this early on,” she said. “But I think the larger issue is YouTube is not in a position where they can anticipate what happens, so that’s what an advisory committee could do. They could think about the type of people who could be violated and will be violated in the future, and advise YouTube on who should be hired or what should be monitored.”
The video platform has become a lucrative source of income for some users known as “influencers,” who promote brands to a massive amount of followers in exchange for free products or money.
Stephanie Stabulis, senior strategy director for HireInfluence, an influencer marketing agency for Fortune 1000 brands that has never worked with the “Fantastic Adventures” family, said the amount of money a channel makes is typically based off of channel reach, engagement and views.
With the “Fantastic Adventures” videos averaging 1 million to 2 million or more views each and some reaching more than 6 million in recent months, “brands could be paying at least $10,000 to $20,000 per sponsored video based on fair market rates for this kind of video performance,” Stabulis said, adding that family channels tend to price toward the higher end of that range due to demand from brands.
Henry, of BizParents Foundation, said social media has made it all too easy for people to skirt traditional production rules for protecting children — as their less costlier videos earn views and profits.
“If you have no money, but you have a cellphone, you can be monetizing from your home,” she said. “And who’s to say what you’re doing in your house?”