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Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire


The Cruelty of an Online Childhood

I’d like for you to think of your guardian. The person who held your chubby fingers as you took your first steps, the one who helped you perfect the bunny-ear loop of tying your shoes. Think of those small, yet tender moments. Now imagine a big, bulky camera – microphone attached – shoved thoughtlessly in your face with each memory. 

This is the reality of children born after the rise of social media and “momfluencers.” Children of these media personalities are conditioned to live life through the lens of a screen, framed in 1280 x 720, constantly aware of their best angles, or the way the light is hitting them. They are diligently mindful of how their words are being perceived by an audience, learning early on to filter themselves and their personalities. Oftentimes, this monetization of children, whether intentional or not, ends up being incredibly harmful. 

A prime example of this is the 8 Passengers family. Formerly on YouTube, (the account has since been removed) the channel followed a family of eight living in Utah, and showcased their daily lives as practicing members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The page was run by the children’s mother, Ruby Franke, who is now renowned as a controversial figure throughout all of social media and, more potently, under criminal investigation for child neglect. 

The buzz around Franke began with the content of her YouTube videos. In the beginning, they were relatively mundane; vlogs showcasing her cleaning, making breakfast in the morning, reading her children to sleep. However, as the videos gained more attention, the message shifted from “look at my well-functioning, all-American family” to “Five-Step-Guide to humiliating your children.” 

This was showcased in a number of ways of the channel, the most notable being when Franke punished her second oldest child, Chad, for pranking his younger brother Russell, by taking away his bed for a total of seven months. In case that horrifying instance does not give you a glimpse into Ruby Franke’s heinous character, she also made a video in which her youngest daughter, Eve, forgot to bring her lunchbox to preschool. When the school noticed Eve had nothing to eat at lunchtime, they called Franke and asked her to drop off the forgotten food, however Franke refused, calling it a lesson of “responsibility.” Eve suffered through the rest of the day hungry, as an excuse for Franke to gain content and maintain the facade of a “tough but adoring mother.”

To everyone’s pleasure, the 8 Passengers YouTube channel suddenly became inactive in early 2022. Ruby Franke continued her parental terror when she joined an online parenting classroom called ConneXions. Alongside her partner-in-crime Jodi Hildebrandt, the two advertised their program as focused on “… personal growth through impeccable honesty, rigorous personal responsibility and vulnerable humility.”

Although her children were no longer on screen 24/7, Franke still broadcasted personal stories and details of their personal lives in seminar-style Zoom meetings published by ConneXions. She used their own “failures” as lessons to others with the purpose of monetary gain. In fact, access to these Zoom meetings costs $21 a month, and some ConneXions services are as costly as $181 dollars a session. 

Now, both Franke and Hildebrandt are under investigation for six counts of aggravated child abuse. One of Franke’s children was found by neighbors malnourished, with his wrists and ankles duct-taped, after he climbed out of a window to ask for food and water. The 911 audio is horrific, and depicts a desperate child. According to the phone call, the boy (determined to be Franke’s 12-year-old son Russell) asked for the neighbors to call the police. 

Even more upsetting, the caller says, “He [Russell] says … what’s happened to him is his fault.” This comment clearly portrays a victim of extreme manipulation. Russell goes on to say two of his sisters are also in the house, however they were not bound in the way he was (the rest of the transcript can be found here, content warning and discretion is advised.) 

After the incident initially occurred on Aug. 30th, 2023, Franke’s oldest child Shari posted an Instagram story showing a photo of a police car with the caption “Finally.” Shari lost contact with her family as a result of her parents’ abuse after leaving for college. In recent months, she has spoken out against the trauma she faced, and her reason for cutting ties with her mother via podcasts, interviews and occasional Instagram stories. 

The investigation is ongoing, but the fact still remains that these children are victims of extreme emotional and physical abuse. I do not want to oversimplify this unthinkable situation and boil it down to a singular point. So while I keep in mind the nuances of this case, I’d like to demonstrate the beginnings of this terrible story: Child content. 

8 Passengers is just one, albeit extreme, example of the harms of childhood monetization. The children subjected to this content have no question of consent in the matter, and the fact there are still a striking lack of laws policing this form of income is disappointing. The dangers of this form of media is countless, ranging from low self-esteem issues to child trafficking. As displayed by the Franke family, this seemingly unharmful “hobby” can spiral quickly into dark ends. 

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  • T

    T. GravesSep 14, 2023 at 12:43 pm

    This was an intriguing story, well written. I came to this conclusion myself after posting something l and realizing my children didn’t have a choice. Thank you for sharing this. Our children should be able to maintain their anonymity and privacy, and the parents should be their greatest protection.