I interviewed popular "Mom Blogger" Jessica Gotlieb, who shared her strong opinions about the YouTube controversy with musical performer Evan Emory and others who behave irresponsibly with online video, and appear to be rewarded for it. Jessica also talks about why parents and communities must get much more involved with digital culture and serve as mentors to the younger generation, if we're to have positive and lasting social change.
For a good number months now, I've been closely following the debate between friends & foes of Evan Emory.
- On one side are the "friends”: Evan's supporters and sympathizers (if not necessarily for Evan himself, then perhaps for the larger societal issues they believe he represents), which has garnered him thousands of "fans" on his multiple Facebook pages.
- On the other side of the debate are the "foes”: Those who consider Evan to be undeserving of the attention he has received from his YouTube video; and also see him as continuing to exploiting that attention for his own career.
Do We Now Need To Talk About Online Video "Taboos?”
The stronger advocates on both sides have made some rather passionate and well-thought arguments when they manage to stick to the issues like free speech versus rights of publicity, and exploiting children. However as the local media websites and social media hangouts has been evident of, many of the posts have been socially irresponsible to a certain level, which seems to compound with the ability to use pseudonyms and hiding one's true identity from the public.
Nevertheless, I made the choice to do my own extended coverage on this story because I believe we still need to have a responsible dialogue around these questions which I think will play an increasingly important part in our society:
- How does the rapid pace of technology and digital culture make us re-assess what is socially irresponsible to do with online media, and to what degree?
- How can we best educate people about their rights and responsibilities with technology (including with online video), and foster a sense of respect for other individuals and communities – both locally and abroad?
Why Even Good People do "Bad" Videos…
From my own long-time experience as an online video professional and enthusiast, I do find that online video is the most common place for where people like to be creative with challenging social taboos, and quickly reach a responsive audience.
I believe with Evan Emory's own case, there is a more specific debate to be had, which is: What is a reasonable level of moral outrage (and punishment) for misappropriating other people's kids with 'adult' content in videos shared online for laughs and creative enjoyment?
Certainly, one of the biggest taboos in our culture is featuring children in inappropriately "adult" situations of a sexual nature, either implied or real. So why do people tackle this big challenge, when there is so much to risk? Because as many of us already know, online video gives one the hope of a big payoff – lots of attention with the potential to go viral, a reputation for being considered edgy and creative by your peers, and maybe even some enterprising opportunities to come from it. But what many digital natives don't seem to realize is how serious the consequences can be. Fail, and you are more likely fail really, really big.
Mixed Messages: Moral Outrage & Rewarding "Bad Videos”
Plus I do think that there is another important point that's been overlooked: The younger generation thinks the older generation are being hypocrites. When you see examples like Tosh.0, Reno 911, and even HBO's critically acclaimed True Blood (where they had their own simulated porn scene involving kids), it's impossible for many of them to stomach criminal charges of child pornography for those submitting a similar-style video on YouTube – which is just what Evan Emory did. After all, if it's really child porn like his town's local prosecutor's office claimed, then it shouldn't matter whether or not parents had to give their consent for it to be OK, should it?
It seems as though the quickest way to get noticed by the public these days is to behave badly. Such behavior oftentimes leads to YouTube and television exposure including one's own TV show or folk hero status. The big question is, why does society reward bad behavior? Does each of us secretly wish we could do the same thing and have such public exposure? " – Steven Mintz, EthicsSage.com
What's gotten a lot of parents angry with Evan Emory, is in their minds, thanks now to YouTube and shows like Tosh.0, the younger generation has been shown that even if you do get punished, you can still have a payoff. With Evan, that's unquestionably led to lots of local media attention, including multiple local radio show visits, local newspaper coverage of his upcoming performance and live variety show, and a club promoter who's advertising the event with a still frame from the "criminal" video. (I myself have been accused by the Muskegon County's prosecutor's office as contributing to the "bad" media attention, although I will argue that I do my best to keep the coverage and arguments balanced.)
Fighting Stereotypes of Digital Culture and Online Video
As I mentioned, many of the stronger attacks I've seen made against Evan Emory are not done with any sense of social responsibility themselves. Most often they are done anonymously, immaturely, and sometimes downright maliciously towards anyone with a difference of opinion. And that I believe just gives fuel to the other side; who can lump in and dismiss these people as completely out-of-touch with digital technology and Internet culture, and the natives who occupy it.
Well, I've interviewed one such person who defeats such a stereotype. Jessica Gotlieb, is popular professional "mom blogger" with nearly 20,000 twitter followers, and who's very actively involved in social media. She also does her own video clips on her blog, and does a weekly video series for mothers at Momversation.com.
I will say right off the bat that Jessica is certainly no fan of Evan Emory's. In fact, she has been very outspoken with me about the news of Evan Emory performing again, after being released from jail and convicted of a felony charge for his YouTube video involving 1st-grade kids in a school classroom.
How outspoken? Well, take for example Jessica's initial response, sent to me via email after she followed my own coverage of the story.… (Language warning!):
"Ummm yeah. Jail. fuck him.. He's not a kid, he's 21 and if I was one of the parents (who's kids were featured in the video) he'd be on a chain gang.
I'm watching [Evan's] "apology" video. I'm seething… he knows how to look at a camera and be sincere to sell tickets... just not to say sorry?
Once again, NOT A KID JUST A FUCK UP. But hey, that's why I'm a mom not a judge.”
Such unbridled mom-rage! I thought I may have finally found someone who could identify with the anger expressed by the parents in Evan's community; and who could also address the issue as both a parent and a "social video professional;" and hopefully, be more likely to be listened to by Evan's supporters and others, who might think that that doing the type of video that he did is either harmless, or not nearly as harmless as others have made it out to be.
A "Momversation" With Jessica Gotlieb on Controversial Social Video with Kids
Jessica, speaking as both a social media professional and as a mom, what concerns do you have with how some online video creators are featuring children in their videos without the parents' full knowledge of the intentions of the video creator, like was the case with Evan Emory's controversial YouTube video?
Well… first off, I'm not speaking as a lawyer. I'm a mom. Look, Evan – he's supposed to be a nice guy, right? But I can tell you if those were my kids (in Evan Emory's video on YouTube), then jail would have been the safest place for him, without a doubt… The reality is that he did a terrible thing. He did the wrong thing… Our children are so precious to us.
Here's what I try to explain to people the way that I see the kids… Moms don't care about anybody as much as they will care about children. Once you're a parent, you cannot see the world any way except for as a parent. Because we hold childhood so safely is why we have these laws with outrageous penalties – as well they should be for people who breach the trust of childhood for sex offenders, for child abusers. They don't fare well in the system because as a society we understand that they are the people that we want to punish. We want them off the street and we don't want them to have access to our children, ever. So keeping that in mind… understanding that parents will never forgive you if you breach the trust when we give you access to our children. We will never help him. It's never funny and it is never forgivable.
Especially when it's your own children featured in someone else's video like that?
Even when it's somebody else's (kids). I mean, I look at [Evan's] video and I'm like yeah, you know what? I'm glad that he's paying a good stiff penalty, I really am. Now I think that 20 years in jail would have been excessive, but what he did was he created a video that made it really okay to do terrible, terrible things to kids. We don't support sex and kids. That's the reality.
It's not about bringing people into a feeling of discomfort. I understand that some people are like, to be funny you have to be a little uncomfortable. But that wasn't a little uncomfortable – that was foul, it was vile! A pedophile would love that. The idea of little kids getting, ahh!! You know, finger in the butt. Not cute, not funny.
Again, it's a terrible breach of the trust of an entire community; he proved to an entire community that he is not to be trusted.
So do you think with individuals like Evan Emory doing this kind of online video – call them genY's, millennials, "digital natives," or whatever – how much of it do you think is about being indifferent to others, versus just being really naïve about the emotional harm they may cause parents over stuff like this?
Well, I'm a digital native myself. Now I'm older than folks who consider themselves to be that; but understand that I don't remember living in a house without a computer, either. I was on the Internet before it had a name. But being digital native doesn't excuse you from learning and accepting responsibility for your own mistakes. I've made my own mistakes, but the problem now is that any mistakes you make online are going to be much more public; and so you really, really have to be more aware. And, you just have to work that much harder because the world can see your mistakes.
And those online mistakes will forever be a part of your permanent record.
It is part of your permanent record. You have to be able to stand behind everything you do [online], and you have to be prepared to pay the price. Sometimes the price will be monetary and sometimes the price will be legal. So be sure about what you're showing and what you're saying. I don't even care frankly if you're 13 years old. If you're 13 years old and you're jumping into YouTube and you're jumping into blogging, you're jumping into an adult space. So get help from an adult because you will be held responsible.
So what is it going to take for people to be in the roles of mentors? Shouldn't parents get more involved? Do we need this type of education over "digital citizenship" in the schools? For example, do we need somebody teaching about how to use social media as part of the curriculum? Do we also need this available more in actual social services, because that's where it seems to really culminate into serious problems?
I gotta say, the parents have to jump in here. I know that parents don't want to and they're like, I don't get it and stuff, but the reality is that they have to. There's a computer lady that comes to my kids school every year; and she comes and talks to them about cyber bullying and Facebook, and blah blah, blah – but that's only for a single day, and the teachers themselves don't really get it. (They're not training the teachers on it, who are there throughout the entire school year with the kids.)
So yeah, it's up to us to do more as a community. There needs to be websites by adults who are willing to mentor that can keep kids out of trouble. Things like [Evan Emory's case] need to be held up for kids and others to see.
I think we need to point out that Evan is now 22 years old, an adult himself. He did his video when he was 21, albeit as a "young adult." But what I'm guessing is that he many not have had these types of social programs when he was growing up and in school, and maybe not at home, either?
So perhaps what I'm getting at is, perhaps a community, shouldn't we also be better about acknowledging contrition, and offering ways for redemption? In other words, shouldn't part of the education be about showcasing when people like Evan are trying to make amends with their community, and try harder to understand what they do as not something entirely devious?
I will say for the most part of what goes on online, it's benign and you can be a jerk. I certainly have been a jerk and it's not really that big of a deal. But we do have lines; and if people cross those lines repeatedly, they will pay consequences. So we all need to have more mindfulness (of what we post online).
And of what those lines are, why they are there, and being able to have open and honest discussions about them? But I think where most of us can already agree on is, don't do anything online that you can't be willing to be fully transparent about, and publicly. Also, don't even do anything in private online that you can't defend in public.
Remember that when you're online you're basically out in public. You don't say something that you wouldn't say standing in the middle of the mall with a megaphone, you know? If you wouldn't stand in the middle of the mall in your underwear, then don't put a picture of yourself in your underwear on the Internet.
About Jessica Gotlieb, Mom Blogger and Video Enthusiast
Jessica Gottlieb is a happily married Mom Blogger in Los Angeles. She has operated businesses in the digital space since the birth of her firstborn 12 years ago. She has found that women connect easily and kindly online, and that community building is simple, and formulaic, but seldom easy.
Jessica enjoys connecting women. Jessica's only agenda is to leave the world a little bit better than she found it, and perhaps a little cleaner too. (Although she has her profane moments! ;) In addition toher own site at JessicaGottlieb.com, she is a featured panelist at Momversation.
Jessica is often featured on Dr. Phil as a mom, and has been quoted in national parenting magazines, Ms., NPR and occasionally at AdAge. Nielson dubbed her "Power Mom" two years in a row, Forbes has put her on lists of women to watch, and the mom blogging community has similarly given her accolades. Most recently she was a guest on Fox and Friends and in a featured segment on the Daily Show with John Stewart.