In 2017, when she had just finished high school, 18-year-old Shyla Walker and her boyfriend, Landon McBroom started a couple’s channel on YouTube to document their lives and romantic memories.
Walker, now 25, said she was “naive” about the internet at the time, as she rarely used social media platforms outside of posting on the channel. But she had connections to the family-vlogging world through Landon, whose brother Austin McBroom runs The Ace Family YouTube channel, a controversial family channel with more than 18 million subscribers.
Austin and Catherine McBroom regularly involve their three kids — Elle, Alaia, and Steel — in their YouTube videos, and also manage Instagram accounts on behalf of the children, who are 7, 4, and 3 years old. Like many family vloggers, they have been accused by other YouTubers of exploiting their children’s lives for content over the years. (The McBrooms did not respond to a request for comment regarding this accusation.)
Landon and Shyla sometimes filmed with the McBrooms, and Walker told Insider she found herself immersed in a culture where regular family vlogging was normal. It seemed natural, therefore, to vlog the moment they told their parents they were having a baby. And when their daughter, Souline, was born in 2019, she quickly became a part of the couple’s channel, This is L&S, where they shared updates about raising her with their followers.
“We thought, ‘Oh my gosh, how much fun is this going to be?’ We were going to be able to make memories and take cool ass videos,” Walker told Insider, reminiscing on her three years of family vlogging. Over that period, she and Landon accumulated almost 3 million subscribers.
But as public scrutiny around the ethics of family channels grew — citing the mental health and safety of the children involved — Walker gradually became more uncomfortable filming Souline, realizing she was putting her child at risk of being exploited and stalked by online users.
In May 2021, Walker announced that she would be putting an end to her family channel. She also made the decision to no longer show her child’s face online. Now she’s learning how to deal with her past choices while continuing to maintain a presence on YouTube.
Walker felt burdened by content creation, and concerned about the effect on her child
During her time as a family vlogger, she and Landon would typically film three videos a week.
“Content was such a daily part of our lives. I would say as much as having a cup of coffee. You see your life not in terms of moments, but in terms of content,” she said.
Though Walker has now removed previous videos from the channel, she told Insider that she and Landon posted vlogs from her daughter’s birthdays, her first steps, and other “special moments” in their lives.
Over time, she began to feel that her family life was developing into a performance for the cameras: “I didn’t want to look back at my daughter taking her first steps, and these monumental moments, and realize that no one was authentic in that moment because everyone was so focused on creating this image for what the internet wanted to see.”
When Souline was 3, she began pushing the camera away as her parents tried to film her. Walker said she interpreted the filming as “affecting her” and making her uncomfortable.
Around the same time, Walker said she became more aware of the potential safety risks of putting her child’s image online.
In November, an investigation by the British newspaper The i found dozens of social media accounts using stolen images of kids uploaded by parents to create fake profiles that sexualized children and contained links to the dark web.
Leah Plunkett, a lawyer and author of the book “Sharenthood: Why we should think before we talk about our kids online,” told Vox in a 2019 interview that much of the child pornography found online comes from images of “real kids that are taken offline and photoshopped or otherwise retouched.”
The fact that people could have access to my daughter and know where she is and all these other details about her was scary and eye-opening.
The non-consensual use and manipulation of a child’s photograph is sometimes referred to as “digital kidnapping.” The non-profit organization Commission on Missing & Exploited Children has warned that some internet users are stealing photos of other people’s children to create child pornography or to pretend they are part of their family and that these “fantasy adoptions” can lead to a risk of child abduction.
“I wish I would have known sooner how innocent things can be used in not-so-innocent ways,” Shyla told Insider, adding, “I would post innocent photos of her in a bikini, and now I just cringe when I look back because I feel I was essentially just feeding her to child predators.”
“The fact that people could have access to my daughter and know where she is and all these other details about her was scary and eye-opening,” she added.
Walker eventually decided to take her child offline
Although she grew increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of putting her daughter online, Walker said most of the people around her didn’t share her concerns — at the time.
Walker said she tried speaking to Landon about her feelings, suggesting they film Souline less frequently for the channel. Income generated from the channel was the family’s most consistent, but not only, source of income at the time, a representative for Walker told Insider. The influencer said she was ultimately more concerned about her daughter’s privacy than the money. Walker declined to comment on the specifics of her family’s YouTube earnings.
I especially didn’t want him relying on our baby to fund his lifestyle at the expense of her safety and childhood innocence.
Initially, Walker said, Landon agreed to feature their daughter less online. In May 2021, Walker made a video announcing the end of their channel, This is L&S. At the time, they said that Landon was going to be focusing on his emerging boxing career and that she was going to be taking over the channel on her own, posting about her life and featuring Souline in videos occasionally.
In September, however, Walker uploaded a video titled “The truth,” where she detailed that she and Landon had broken up in June, accusing him of abusive behavior during their relationship. Landon denied these accusations in a video posted in October. He did not respond to Insider’s request for comment.
Walker told Insider that as news of her breakup with Landon spread online, she felt that more eyes were on her and her daughter. Drama channels and creators speculated about the breakup on social media, which only made her feel more uncomfortable about the lack of privacy in Souline’s life.
“I thought, OK, if I was ever going to prioritize her safety and well-being, I need to do it now,” she said, telling Insider that she decided overnight to remove all videos and photos she’d previously uploaded of Souline.
She then went to court and requested a privacy agreement signed by both she and Landon, which was seen by Insider, stating that neither party would post pictures of their child that included her face on social media.
“I especially didn’t want him relying on our baby to fund his lifestyle at the expense of her safety and childhood innocence,” she told Insider.
Walker discovered it’s not that easy to extricate yourself from family vlogging
Walker said the decision to no longer film with Souline sparked a backlash among some longstanding fans of This is L&S.
“I think when you give people access to your life in that way, they feel entitled, and they feel like they deserve the access because they’ve had it for so long,” Walker said.
In August, Walker accused Austin McBroom of sharing photos of Souline on social media without her consent in a now-deleted Instagram story screenshotted by entertainment outlet Dexerto.
“They choose to share their family online still, and I think maybe it’s hard for them to understand me not wanting to do it anymore. They’re still very deep in it, and I think sometimes it can be hard for people to respect what they don’t understand,” she told Insider of the incident.
Representatives for Austin and Catherine McBroom did not respond to Insider’s request for comment.
Walker has no regrets about her decision
Walker told Insider that she thinks the family-vlogging genre is “rapidly declining,” with some creators choosing to no longer spotlight their kids on the internet because it no longer feels authentic. She also mentioned that parents now understand the risks involved.
Despite the negative reaction to her pulling down the videos of her daughter, Walker said she’s glad she made the decision.
“I was kind of walking into it blindly. There was no book on how to protect your child’s privacy after you’ve exploited them for a year,” she told Insider.
“Looking back, I regret none of it,” she said, adding, “I had to trust my gut and trust myself as a mother and really put my daughter first.”
Walker is currently working on a mini-series for her own channel in which she shares her own perspective on how she became involved in family vlogging.
“I think people are kind of waking up and realizing that there’s no price you can put on privacy, and people are kind of understanding just how performative it is,” she told Insider.
While she said she doesn’t think it’s blanketly wrong to post images of your children on the internet, she hopes her decision might encourage other parents to think about putting boundaries in place to protect their privacy where necessary.
“It’s never too late to change your mind, to accept your wrongdoings and do better,” she said.
As for her daughter, Walker said she hopes that over time, strangers will no longer recognize her from pictures that are still available on the internet and that she will be better protected from online harm.
“As a mother, it’s my place to reaffirm boundaries for my daughter and to stand up for her rights and her privacy,” she said.