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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Friday, April 19, 2024

Tok the Talk: Ruby Franke, the reality behind family vlogging channels

The popular YouTube subgenre has dangerous implications.

crime scene.jpeg

Police tape is pictured.

Ruby Franke probably would not have seen the lights of superstardom, at least in the world of YouTubing, if it wasn’t for the major influx of family vlogging channels in the 2010s — oh, and of course, the six children she paraded across the face of the internet, ignominiously, for years. 

Perhaps the strangest concave curve of the last decade is the rapid rise and painfully slow fall of family vlogging channels. For better or for worse, it’s hard to argue that there wasn’t a huge audience supporting family channels, including “The ACE Family,” “Bratayley” and “The LaBrant Fam.”

Franke has had her fair share of scandals relating to things like taking away her son’s bedroom and refusing to feed her daughter who forgot to pack a lunch. She was recently arrested on Aug. 30 on six felony counts of aggravated child abuse, and is potentially facing up to 15 years in prison for each count. Her arrest, though warranted, begs the bigger question: Is vlogging your children to earn a livelihood inherently abusive? Or is there an ethical way to produce social media content centered around children?

Shari Franke, the oldest child of the family, publically distanced herself from her mother in September 2022, the most notable event in the controversy prior to the arrest.  “I noticed when I would leave my family, I would just feel spiritually drained,” she stated. Since then, she has posted several Instagram stories disavowing her mother’s cult-like beliefs; after news broke regarding Ruby’s arrest, she shared a photo to her Instagram story of a police car outside of the home with the caption “finally.”

It is somewhat heartwarming, in an odd sense, to see action taken. However, the truth is that not every family vlogger will face legal consequences for child abuse. Abuse is not just physical, it can be emotional and exploitative. Though the blame ultimately lies on the parents, viewers have a responsibility to question the ethics behind the concept of family vlogging.

Posting a child with their first training bra for millions of people to see, or explaining exactly when and where children wet the bed is unethical — it’s embarrassing and sets them up for years of bullying. But more than that, it’s non-consensual; children lack the maturity or agency. This is the root issue of all of these channels.

“I’ve been sleeping on a beanbag since October,” the Frankes’ oldest son, Chad, revealed in one of their weekly YouTube videos, a look of resignation darkening across his features. Ruby laughed, a strangely maniacal smile dancing across her face, quickly disappearing as her son recounts playing a common sibling prank on his younger brother. 

“That was seven months ago,” she clarified to her viewers, reeling in an acute sense of power only mothers can really ever possess. “Maybe you need longer without a bedroom.”