Why do I know this baby?

ASMR, Youtube, and Children on the Internet

My son is really cute. I understand the want to post every picture of his adorable face. More than that, my son had a dermoid cyst on his nose when he was a baby. A dermoid cyst that started to grow in through his cribriform and into the lining of his brain. Which resulted in a pretty terrifying surgery before he was even a year older. But he left the hospital with a BEAUTIFUL nose that, yes, nearly bankrupted us, but was totally worth it because our baby boy was alive to rub that beautiful nose against our cheeks.

So, we more than many, had reasons to show off our little boy’s face. But still. We did’t. Why is that?

Because we wanted him to live past his second birthday.

Ok. Maybe that was dramatic. But it isn’t wrong either.

My husband and I have a policy that we never show our son’s face publicly on the internet. Sure, we share photos privately to our friends and family, but we are particular about our friends and family.

Again, why?

First of all, you have to understand that my husband was a prosecutor for a very long time. And part of being a prosecutor was learning about child pornography on the internet and how to prosecute it. Those trainings seriously effected his life, and subsequently, our lives together.

Because “child porn” is not as straightforward as you think. It’s not just abuse that is taped and uploaded on some dark corner of the web. No, it’s often the misuse of your innocent personal pictures. That adorable bathtime photo, or diaper only rough-housing? There is someone out there, that could use that in a disturbing way. And with the new world of “deep fake technology” it’s getting even more twisted.

That sounds paranoid. But I am gonna tell you two examples from my life that may make you think twice…

First time was not a situation with a child, but rather my friend. I had a public facebook at the time (technically, it was my generation that made facebook what it was, remember) and so when I uploaded a beautiful picture of her face, it became accessible to the world at large. My beautiful friend had an “admirer” – I would call him a stalker. I don’t know how dangerous he was. I don’t know how she categorized him. But I do know that when he gave her a mix CD with her picture printed on the front, she felt unsafe. I changed my settings that day.

The second time, I was at a grocery store in my old hometown. Suddenly, I saw a baby in a grocery cart that I absolutely recognized. But I had NO IDEA from where. I kept staring, thinking “Why do I know this baby?” Then it hit me. It was the daughter of an old high school acquaintance. I hadn’t seen her mother in years, and I, honestly, know very little about her other than she has a really adorable kid. Yet, I was able to recognize her child in a public place. It was so unnerving. What if I had been a predator? I know people from my past that turned out to be sexual predators, what if she had unwittingly “friended” the same person. It was terrifying. I wanted to go up to the child’s grandmother and be like, “Tell your daughter to stop posting this baby’s face immediately.” But obviously, I can’t do that. Because that is not my place.

And yet? There is still a public outcry to make people stop doing just that. It’s this pre-emptive attempt to stop abuse of images before it happens. And for the most part, I kind of agree with that. I am a big fan of the #kids for privacy movement, that asks people to stop using hashtags that make it easier for predators to gain access to images of innocent children.

But also, isn’t that blaming the victim?

People should be allowed to publish images of their lives without fear of misuse. One of the examples on my mind most lately, is the targeting of young women with ASMR channels.

As I’ve said before, I use ASMR videos as a way of relaxation and meditation. Like a massage, without having to be touched by a stranger. (This is very important for neurodiverse people, so it may sound like I am joking, but I am not.) But there is a neurotypical insistence that this is a purely sexual thing. (Also, as I’ve said, before, there is a sexualized version of ASMR, but seriously, there’s a porn for everything.) I mean, China has straight up made it illegal and classified the whole thing as pornography. Illegal! I know that’s China, and they technically banned Winnie the Pooh- but still!

So, are the millions of people that use ASMR for therapeutic purposes, suddenly, sexual deviants? Of course not, that’s bananas. (Bananas is one of the words that Youtube will ding you for being improper, by the way. I’ll get more into that in a moment.)

BUT on the other hand, I do not watch young people do ASMR. There are two reasons for this-

#1- I am old. And some old crotchety part of me always says, “You don’t have enough life experience to understand how to deal with anxiety! I didn’t have ASMR at your age! I had to do it like everyone else and listen to Bob Ross talk about happy little trees, you rugrat!…” Yeah, that is silly of course. They probably have just as much understanding of anxiety as I do– they’re teenagers. They naturally eat, sleep, and breathe anxiety.

And #2- I can feel the predators. A good example of this for me is, ASMR Darling. She is an ASMR giant, and very good at what she does. She started as a teenager and has been doing it for more than four years. I imagine that she’s helped so many people at such a young age, and that is amazing. I know that the money she has probably made from monetizing her videos must be great. And how wonderful for her! To be so successful, so young! She should be applauded. And I do! I think she’s clearly a smart young woman. But… I read the comments. And I just can’t handle it.

Should she be punished for being young? I don’t think so.

One that I remember right away– she was very young in the video, barely an adult. And someone commented that she kept looking off-screen, like someone was in the room with her. (She was looking at her monitor most likely, to check on her audio levels.) And one person joked- “Someone’s forcing her to do ASMR.” And another replied, “If I had ASMR Darling alone in a room, I wouldn’t be forcing her to do ASMR…”

It was so casual. This mention of rape. And she isn’t the only ASMRtist who’s had to deal with it. Now, that’s rape culture, and that’s a whole other issue. But by just watching, I felt complicit somehow. And I know that’s not true. And that by feeling that, I am stopping my support of a talented young woman in the hopes of eliminating an ever present toxicity in our culture. It’s not Taylor Darling’s fault, that’s for sure. So, why should she, or other young women ASMR stars, have her videos demonetized by some unsavory filtering youtube algorithm? That is more than blaming the victim. It’s fining them.

(If you read the linked algorithm article, in 2018, there were new regulations that tried to crack down on the darker aspects of Youtube – like the horrible MMS cure for Autism, or domestic terrorist hate speech, or anything targeting children– but really it was just an algorithm that took away advertising from anything that it deemed might be “unsavory” using keywords. To protect Advertisers, not people. So sure, “Adolph Hitler” gets you dinged, but so does “gay” and “autistic.” As a queer autistic person, I have a problem with that. Also, this seemed to unfairly attack the ASMR community dinging on words like “roleplay” or “close up” or “whisper.”)

As much as I hate to admit it, I DO think there should be some kind of age prerequisite on being a “Youtube star” OR at the very least, there needs to be some kind of protection for these young people. I don’t know how to solve that problem. It’s bigger than an algorithm or a blanket rule. We have to change our societies views on sex in general. And well, that’s only a problem thousands of years in the making. Easy, right?!

But there is a lot of exploitation of children on the internet right now, especially in the #autismparent community, all in the name of “awareness.” Specifically, I mean the recording of meltdowns and uploading them as educational tools. I won’t link any examples because I think that furthers the problem. But meltdowns get A LOT of views, so these people are literally making money off their child’s pain. (I would never say that these people instigate meltdowns on purpose, but I wouldn’t put it in the realm of impossible. Especially when it accrues so many views.) And as an autism parent I can tell you, recording your child’s meltdown for anything other than the diagnostic use for a doctor or therapist, is bad parenting. It’s also just…. a really dick thing to do to your kid.

So, my point in all this? My point is… children on the internet is not an easy topic. Its problems have no easy answers, and its benefits are huge (especially for kids in marginalized groups like the autistic or queer community.) So what do we do? For now, I say keep your babies images off public search engines, your teenagers monitored, and your mind, out of the gutter.

Also, don’t read the comments.

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