Facebook’s “report abuse” function has long been a go-to in sibling arguments and friendship groups around the world. For me, it was a weapon my sister regularly used to counter attack my uploading a photo of her not looking her best. (Ok, fine, looking pretty atrocious.)
We laugh about it, but conversations around social media rights always come back to the same, not very funny, question for me now. Who are the people that don’t get that choice? Who don’t get to, jokingly or not, “report abuse” on their brother, sister, mother, father, or friend’s photo if they don’t want it to be shared online. And the answer is always the same – children.
The news that famed mummy blogger Clemmie Hooper (AKA @mother_of_daughters), wife to fellow influencer @father_of_daughters and part-time NHS midwife, has trolled other influencers using a fake identity (AliceInWanderlust) on gossip site Tattle Life by posting what some people have called “vile” and even “deeply racist” comments, has shocked the online parenting community.
After all, here’s someone who has seemingly made it big. This past summer alone, the mum-of-four launched a successful podcast, released a second jewellery line with Rachel Jackson London and took part in a national M&S campaign with the likes of presenter Holly Willoughby and actress Vicky McClure.
All the while, posting relatable, honest and heartfelt content to her 665,000 Instagram followers. She has always championed frank conversations around childbirth, body image and day-to-day-life as a working mum.
But behind the scenes she was dealing with trolling from other parenting bloggers – mostly aimed at her daughters, the youngest of whom are three-year-old twins Delilah and Ottilie.
Maternal instinct kicked in and Hooper did what, I presume, the majority of mums would do when their child is under threat: she fought back. The problem is, when you are an influencer that profits from parenthood, these battles aren’t fought in the traditional sense. Instead you fight alone, at home, on your laptop or phone, for the world to see.
Hooper knows the score – she temporarily closed her Instagram account last year when she fell victim to abuse from people who accused her of overusing her children in adverts.
Perhaps most importantly to consider is that influencers aren’t just fighting to protect their children, but themselves – for the image they have meticulously fashioned for the world to see via Instagram, including the brands they work with and earn a living from.
Two years ago, I worked for an influencer marketing agency (one that arranged deals for the Hooper clan from time-to-time) and saw first-hand the eye watering amounts of money that influencers are paid in exchange for a few photographs. And more often than not, that price inflates when kids become involved.
Whether you agree with the industry of influencers or not, or with parents using their kids to sell clothes and other products, the simple fact is that some people – the large majority of them good people – do it. If all goes to plan it can become their main source of income. So what happens when it goes horribly wrong?
For one thing, the fallout is certainly abnormal compared to your run-of-the-mill family drama. Her husband Simon was forced to issue a statement and, due to pressure from his own fan base, couldn’t support his wife outright.
“Frankly, I’m in a crap position … I [either] stay silent to protect my wife and knowing that if I do, the silence will be deafening or comment on something I had no knowledge of. It’s not a fun place to be,” he wrote in a post to his one million followers. Although, in all fairness, he may well have been feeling a bit of resentment for the fact his wife had been posting abusive comments on his photos as well, in order to cover her tracks.
Clearly social media and online forums need to think again when it comes to policing trolls, but ultimately there also needs to be a second thought for the children who get wrapped up in their influencer parents’ firing line.
Because, as we all know, the internet isn’t somewhere the large majority of people go to play nice and support one another – meaning this instance might just be the first in a long list to come.
When it comes to kids, the choice is always a parent or legal guardian’s. And, clearly, nine out of 10 times, the Hooper family’s current situation doesn’t happen to parents making a living through online brand partnerships.
But the one time it does is reason enough to question whether children really have a place in the murky world of influencer marketing, where competition, abuse and outright bullying sadly become the norm. And if that’s not enough, consider that a normal day’s work for an influencer marketeer includes hearing stories of kids who are trained to smile on cue, as soon as they see a camera.
I imagine Clemmie’s journey from protective, instinctive mother to disgraced online troll went by in a confusing flash. She said in her statement of apology: “Undoubtedly I got lost in this online world and the more I became engrossed in the negative commentary, the more the situation escalated.”
It will be hard for her, despite her loyal and huge following, to justify her actions and bounce back from this scandal – particularly as anti-bullying week kicks off on Monday 11 November and we are all confronted with the dangerous, sometimes fatal, consequences that conducting the type of behaviour she did can have on other people.
Still, it’s sad that a mother’s plight to protect became as big a monster as the very world she sought to shield her family from. If that isn’t proof enough that kids should be saved from entering the world of influencer marketing, I don’t know what is.