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The sharenting reckoning putting us all on notice.

Ruby Franke's story was the extreme end of a spectrum. 

A family vlogger found guilty of multiple counts of aggravated child abuse against her two youngest kids after years of a concerning style of disciplining her children; all of which she was filming and uploading for 2.5 million followers online. 

It started with admitting on camera to denying her children "the privilege of food" and denying one of her sons access to his own bed for seven months, forcing him to sleep on a beanbag. 

Listen: Inside the rise and fall of Ruby Franke. Post continues after podcast. 

But in 2023, it was discovered that Franke and her business partner Jodie Hilderbrandt had detained her 12-year-old son and nine-year-old daughter in a "concentration camp-like setting" for a number of months, subjecting them to physical torture, binding their arms and legs and refusing them food and water. 

Franke's YouTube following gave her the confidence to think she was somewhat of an 'authority on parenthood.' A regular Utah mum-of-six turned 'celebrity' and 'mumfluencer' thanks to her enormous audience. 

Ruby Franke. Image: Instagram.


But that confidence morphed into something evil, and it's time to interrogate just how dangerous the world of family vlogging can be. 

Not all family vloggers are guilty of child abuse of course. Franke is the extreme end of that aforementioned spectrum, but what kind of slippery slope does this industry encourage?

If parents are happy to partake in child labour; using their own children to earn an income, all while sharing their private struggles and triumphs on the internet, what else are they willing to do? How far are they willing to push things for clicks?

As executive producer of The Rise & Fall Of Ruby Franke podcast, Jessica Lowtha, told Mamamia's True Crime Conversations, "I think Ruby Franke and the 8 Passengers saga is the tip of the iceberg. We are seeing all of these stories come out about what it's like to grow up on a family vlog on YouTube.


"We're seeing these kids who are now adults come out and say 'I wish I could get my face off the internet. I wish no one knew who I was. I wish I had a normal childhood'. Some of it as simple as that, but a lot of these kids were being abused," she said. 

The family channel DaddyOFive should have been a warning to us. 

Mike Martin started vlogging his family on YouTube in 2015, filming challenges and pranks alongside everyday life with his wife Heather and their brood of kids. The bigger the reaction from the children during so-called "pranks", the more views they got until eventually the couple lost custody of two of their children and were convicted of child neglect in 2017.  

The couple behind the DaddyOFive YouTube channel. Image: YouTube.


This was a family profiting off children's pain for views. But it did nothing to slow the now juggernaut that is the family vlogging space.

The thing is, it shouldn't take the actions of people like Mike and Heather or Ruby Franke for the world to be put on notice. The very premise itself is questionable.

"It's child labour," said Lowtha. "They're making money off their child's likeness, and they're not seeing any of the money that their parents made off them and what are we going to do about it as a society?"

"The internet has only been around in its current form for like a decade," she added. "We need legislation to protect children online and there needs to be recourse, something akin to reparations for what these kids are being subjected to."

On the other end of the spectrum to Franke are examples like LA YouTuber Jordan Cheyenne being caught forcing her son to fake cry for a YouTube thumbnail she wanted to title 'We are heartbroken' in 2021. 

Or the popular LaBrant family, who posted a preview for a YouTube video with the title 'She got diagnosed with cancer', leaving viewers to think their two-year-old had been given a diagnosis. It was clickbait, their daughter wasn't ill at all. 


The title and original thumbnail of the LaBrants' video. Image: YouTube/The LaBrant Fam.

Right now in 2024, there's controversy swirling about a four-year-old girl called Wren Eleanor, whose TikTok account (run by her mum) has more than 17 million followers. 


There is genuine concern for this child's safety, given the amount of "creepy" people saving and commenting on videos of the cute toddler in crop tops and summery dresses. But her mum is steadfast — she's not doing anything wrong. 

But is she? There are no laws against it. 

The reality is because this world is still so new, we're only now seeing the first wave of kids who grew up with their faces plastered over YouTube and social media being able to talk to their experience.  

As one now-16-year-old daughter of an influencer shared on Reddit, there were times growing up when her mum wouldn't let her sleep or eat until she had finished recording 'genuine' moments for content. 

READ: 'My mum's an influencer. I hate what she's done to my life.'

Ruby Franke's story is in a league of its own, but what it has done is shine the light more pointedly at the whole industry.

At the need for more regulation. 

At the worrying way parents are exploiting their own kids for clicks and cash. 

As Lowtha, who has been investigating this space for some time now told True Crime Conversations, "we're going to see all of these stories coming out over the next couple of years — we're already seeing dribs and drabs of them."

Rube Franke is just the start of the unravelling.

Feature image: YouTube/8Passengers.