July 18, 2024

Being part of an age group that grew up online, I was told by my parents to be extremely careful about my presence on the internet. They said not to talk to strangers, wait until I was old enough to be on social media and, when I did join, to keep my accounts private.
When you created accounts on sites like Club Penguin, you were warned by the website itself not to put your real name into a username and not to give out any personal information to others on the site.
If you also grew up online, you can relate to the constant threats of danger adults perceived about our presence on the internet, even when we were behind the anonymity of a neon penguin.
I attribute most of this to the fact that our parents didn't grow up on the internet, but nevertheless, as members of Generation Z, from a young age, it was drilled into our heads that what we post on the internet lasts forever.
When I was younger, I was of course annoyed that I had to take so many precautions. But as an adult, I'm glad that my parents were looking out for me. I know so many people my age that have cringey — or worse, damaging — pictures and videos they posted out there that are still in the electronic ether. These posts were made before they had the mental capacity to really understand how permanent social media is.
So imagine if your parents turned the camera on you, and showed millions of strangers some silly little thing you did as a kid. Imagine it was turned into content for people to watch and share, commenting on the parts of your lives that should be private. Imagine if when you were an innocent, chubby-cheeked kid, naive about the internet, instead of protecting you, your parents saw the potential for profit and exploited that.
Well, that’s exactly what’s happening to far too many kids on the internet right now. And if you’re on TikTok at all, you’re probably aware of a very important case of this: the Corn Kid.
What started as an innocent video of a TikToker interviewing kids turned into a viral sound with hundreds of thousands of videos using the sound. Not only is the original video viral, but a sound remixing it by The Gregory Brothers has also become even more popular than the original itself.
People use the sound to talk about their favorite things, mouthing the “it’s corn” part to explain it. Others use the sound for posts that I view as a bit more disturbing, and act with childlike mannerisms while putting the sound over their video.
When I first saw the original video without the song remix, I of course thought it was pretty cute. A random kid describing in great detail his love of corn, seemingly unprompted, to the amusement of the relative with him, led me to think the interviewer behind the mic was deserving of a quick like and a few shares to my friends.
But then I heard the remix. And everything changed.
Having been on TikTok for more than two years now, I know how earworms can spread like wildfire, and how they get extremely annoying quickly. After the first time I heard this song, I knew it would be everywhere by the end of the day.
The internet split quickly. As I said before, the video had a lot of positive engagement from those liking the sound or even using it on their own videos, and then there were people who were instantly skeptical. Of course, I haven’t seen any negativity sent toward Tariq, the Corn Kid, but instead toward the situation surrounding him.
Many just find the sound annoying and complain about how often they find it on their “for you” page, but many raise important questions about how this is affecting Tariq.
It seemed that Tariq’s newfound fame came with a lot of offers such as brand deals and advertisements from businesses like Cameo and Chipotle. Some have voiced concerns about the pressure this must put on Tariq as it forces him to become a financial contributor for his family and at the same time be in the limelight at only 7 years old.
I’m not here to shame the parents or guardians of Tariq, especially since we don’t know the full story and much of his recent rise to fame is out of their control. I understand the lure of money, especially when it’s seemingly handed to you. And if you view fame as an intrinsically positive thing, of course, you’d deduce that giving your kid his 15 minutes in the spotlight would be the experience of a lifetime for him.
But as a parent, you have to consider that not all that glitters is gold, especially on the internet.
Another example of this kind of exploitation is the "mommy vloggers" and "family influencers." Unlike Tariq’s parents, mommy vloggers don’t take advantage of the fame that already exists with their kids but start entire platforms based on raising their child in front of a camera.
Compared to these types of vloggers, Tariq’s case seems much tamer. These family influencers film moments of their children’s lives that should be private but are instead posted to the internet for their followers to enjoy.
There are parents on the more responsible side of this section of the internet that only film things like trips to Disney or how they decorate their kid’s rooms, but that’s not how it is for many family influencers. They regularly cross the line, filming private moments like their kids’ tantrums or punishments and making them public. There was even one case of a mother coaching her child to cry after their family dog died.
It’s especially alarming when you consider the fact that most of the parents that call themselves family influencers are young enough to understand the consequences of having an online presence at such a young age, having likely grown up using it themselves.
The internet can be a dark place, and knowing this raises the question of how they can give their children a platform before they can knowingly consent to such a life-changing decision. Not only are these videos on the internet forever, but you also never know who’s watching and engaging with this kind of content.
Of course, there are plenty of people who innocently enjoy this kind of content, but you have to be chronically offline and naive to not understand the darker side of the internet and know that not everyone on it has good intentions.
The ethics of vlogging your kid are questionable at best, but when you put them in a potentially dangerous situation, you at least have to act as a protective figure from the harm that comes from the internet. Sometimes you need to put aside the manager role and focus on being a parent instead.
Though often, the topic of child influencers feels like uncharted water, in some ways it isn’t. We’ve been dealing with child stars for years in Hollywood. Kids all the way from Shirley Temple to Millie Bobby Brown enter into the spotlight at a young age and have to face the pressures of fame as a result.
A key difference between the internet and movies or TV is that there are plenty of laws put into place to keep studios and the world of Hollywood in check. Comparatively, the internet is akin to the Wild West — there's very little protecting kids from their audiences, people in the business and even their own guardians.
Even with all these laws for children in the film and music industries, there are still plenty of injustices happening to show business kids. Think about Jennette McCurdy’s new book “I’m Glad My Mom Died” wherein she discloses the trauma she experienced from working in the industry at such a young age and how a lot of that was the result of a lack of interference on her mother’s part.
If this can still happen in a business with laws and structures in place to protect kids, then what about in one where there aren’t? There’s not much in place to protect Corn Kid or the children of family influencers from the careers that are being thrust upon them without their knowledgeable consent.
Considering the fact that the vast majority of kids in this growing industry won’t be able to share their sides of the story the same way people like McCurdy have for another decade or so is troubling to me. We won’t truly know the damaging effects these kids will experience from becoming an internet mascot at such a young age.
I think it says a lot about how we view the internet that so many of us turn a blind eye to Tariq’s or other children of family influencers' situations. Why don’t we view child influencers as workers? Because if you talk to any influencer or content creator, they’ll tell you the work and responsibilities that come with the job.
But not only are these kids allowed to have such a large presence on the internet years before they’ll be allowed to work a part-time job, but their presence also isn’t exactly up to them. This can be especially damning in this day and age — as I said before, what you post on the internet lasts forever.


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