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From YouTube to TV, and Back Again: Viral Video Child Stars and Media Flows in the Era of Social Media

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By Crystal Abidin & Tama Leaver, presented at the Association of Internet Researchers conference, #AoIR2018, Montreal Canada, 11 October 2018.
While talk shows and reality TV are often considered launching pads for ordinary people seeking to become celebrities, we argue that when children are concerned, especially when those children have had viral success on YouTube or other platforms, their subsequent appearance(s) on television highlight far more complex media flows. At the very least, these flows are increasingly symbiotic, where television networks harness preexisting viral interest online to bolster ratings. However, the networks might also be considered parasitic, exploiting viral children for ratings in a fashion they and their carers may not have been prepared for. In tracing the trajectory of Sophia Grace and Rosie from viral success to The Ellen Show we highlight these complexities, whilst simultaneously raising concerns about the long-term impact of these trajectories on the children being made increasingly and inescapably visible across a range of networks and platforms.

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From YouTube to TV, and Back Again: Viral Video Child Stars and Media Flows in the Era of Social Media

  1. 1. from YouTube to TV, and back again: viral video child stars and media flows in the era of social media A/Prof Tama Leaver | @tamaleaver | tamaleaver.net Dr Crystal Abidin | @wishcrys | wishcrys.com
  2. 2. 30 August 2017 75 million views https://youtu.be/-ioilEr3Apw
  3. 3. a brief history of internet celebrity 1) celebrity and stars (P. David Marshall 2014) media industry, celebrity industry 2) ordinary celebrity (Graeme Turner 2010) tabloidization, demotic turn, emotioneering, presentational media 3) reality TV celebrity (Laura Grindstaff 2002, Annette Hill 2004) partially staged real people, content and commerce, non-experts 4) celebrity relations (Chris Rojek 2016) parasocial relations, direct interactions 5) microcelebrity (Theresa M Senft 2008, Alice Marwick 2013) social media affordances, self-branding, relatability 6) influencers  internet celebrity (Crystal Abidin 2015–) personal life cycles, cultural repertoire, institutions, platforms
  4. 4. demotic turn (Graeme Turner 2010) Ordinary people and the media: The demotic turn. Los Angeles: Sage. new TV formats: reality TV, confessional talk formats, docu-soaps, reality-based game shows “liveness”: watching as is happening, real replicability: acceleration, cyclical, use and disposal celetoids (cf. Chris Rojek 2001): short lifecycle as public figure, no particular talents (i.e. “virality”) media industry: mediating industry celebrities  producing celebrities democratainment (cf. John Hartley 1999): less elitist, less on information/education, more construction of cultural identities diversity vs. democracy vs. demotic
  5. 5. tv talk shows (Laura Grindstaff 2002) The Money Shot: Trash, Class, and the Making of TV Talk Shows. Chicago: Chicago Scholarship Online. – saturation  sensationalism  spectacle – interactional > observational – first-person confessionals – studio > real-world context – (commercially) narrating lifestyles – the gender of chatter  topics – “homemaker entertainment”  demographic vs. “the woman myth” – “the money shot”: surprise, transgression, break social codes, unveiling secret  a la carnival freak shows – moral bankruptcy, voyeurism, lowest common denominator – production labour of celebs vs. ordinary people
  6. 6. reality TV families: –extraordinary (remarkable) –exotic (foreign) –eccentric (unconventional)
  7. 7. DaddyOFive (USA) https://theconversation.com/when-exploiting-kids-for-cash-goes-wrong-on-y
  8. 8. Case Study: Sophia Grace and Rosie (UK/USA) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AtLyCAOOmcA&list=PL091E526B417A982D
  9. 9. networked trajectories of viral child celebrity 1) viral happenstance + securing mainstream media debut 2) television debut + convert social capital to economic capital 3) branded grooming + sustaining demotic relatability 4) maintaining intimacies + cultivating diverse assets 5) expanded digital estates + networking across media industries 6) solidifying Influencer status + feeding social capital back to amplifier patron 7) return to the mothership
  10. 10. Parasitic or symbiotic?  Reversing the traditional flows; TV producers watching for ‘early’ stage viral stars  parasitic?  Are viral children (already internet celebrities) being turned into sustained microcelebrities/influencers by TV, or is the power of viral kids sustaining TV talkshows? Or both?  symbiotic
  11. 11. Balancing internet/reality tv celebrity with children’s rights in a digital world ...  Children’s names in a context of a real-name web and persistent identities (van Dijck, 2013b; van Zoonen, 2013)  Identity as persistent, replicable, searchable (boyd, 2010) and owned (Aufderheide, 2010) by platforms.  Challenges of context collapse & context collision (Nissenbaum, 2009; Marwick & boyd, 2011; Davis & Jurgenson, 2014)  How to balance the reality of digital communication with children’s rights, including the right to privacy? (Livingstone and Third, 2017)  Might parents agreeing for viral kids to be on traditional media negate any emerging ‘right to be forgotten’?
  12. 12. Once in the spotlight ...  Emerging genre of bullied viral children survival stories
  13. 13. Once in the spotlight … • Who helps viral kids navigate (temporary?) internet fame, especially if amplified/harnessed by (commercial) reality TV & talkback shows?  Historical reality TV problem, long before the web. • Are children’s parents seduced into providing free child labour due to the myth / ‘aspiration’ that exposure = fame = $$? (Abidin, 2017; Duffy, 2017). When does that become abuse/exploitation? (cf. DaddyOFive). • Parents or/as producers? Parents as co-creators of children’s online identities (Leaver, 2018)? • Do all viral children (or their parents) want to translate viral + TV exposure into online influencer status? (Could going on TV just be for fun?!)
  14. 14. (Emerging) Conclusions 1. (Traditional media) TV + (new media) viral kids and microcelebrity co-exist in unequal but ongoing symbiotic and parasitic relationships. 2. Viral kids are immediately in heightened economies of attention, branding and commerce which need to be carefully managed for child ‘stars’ 3. Viral kids have rights (to privacy, etc) and these need to exist despite extensive digital and televisual footprints. 4. Child stars (in film & TV) have often not fared well in ‘real’ life afterwards. There are more viral kids and they need better, more carefully mapped and supported, trajectories including explicit rules for both traditional and digital media in terms of payment, protection and so forth.

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