Since Alec Baldwin’s fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins in October, his influencer wife Hilaria Baldwin has tried to position herself as a mama-bear crusader against reporters and photographers who, she says, have relentlessly pursued her family, invading her young children’s privacy and making them cry.
But at the same time, the self-styled parenting expert, known for her love of media attention, continues to post multiple images almost daily of their six children, ages 1 to 8. These posts on Instagram include potentially private content about their family’s home life amid her husband’s crisis over the on-set shooting, such as images of her children playing and enjoying Christmas but also acting out and looking sad or distressed.
The wife of the veteran film and TV star has reason to expect that her posts will get picked up by gossip and entertainment sites. She made it possible last month for the Daily Mail to broadcast photos of her 6-year-old son, with a headline referring to her “parenting struggles” because the boy kept using profanity. The tabloid also posted the “full” video, made available by Hilaria via Instagram Story, of the little boy haltingly reading an apology note.
This week, Hilaria Baldwin, 37, shared news that the same boy and his brother had been fighting. With laughing emojis, she joked about her son “laying it on thick” in a new apology note, showing how the paper was wet with his tears, as her son called himself “an idiot” and wrote “I do not feel special at all.”
In the past week, two entertainment outlets have blasted Alec Baldwin’s wife for being “obsessed” with social media and for “over-sharing” information about her children to get attention. Eric Schiffer, a Los Angeles-based expert in public relations and crisis management, agreed that the former yoga teacher has been “using her children as props.” Indeed, it could be said she long ago turned her kids into featured performers in her Instagram version of the Baldwin family reality TV show.
Within this show, Hilaria and Alec Baldwin seem to be angling for sympathy by emphasizing their role as harried but dedicated parents, trying to keep life normal amid a horrific tragedy. But Schiffer told this news organization that such messaging comes across as “narcissistic” and “callous,” given that Hutchins is dead and her 9-year-old son has lost his mother.
Evan Nierman, founder of the crisis management and PR firm Red Banyan, also noted that Hilaria Baldwin has “a compulsion” to keep posting.
“It’s her oxygen,” Nierman said in an interview. “At the very time her husband was involved in a shooting that resulted in someone’s death, she appears to be living and dying according to people’s reaction to her posts.” Nierman added that Baldwin can’t realistically expect reporters to back off if she continues to “wave a red flag” to attract attention.
#hilariabaldwin why can’t you stay in the car with your crying children??? Do you have to insert yourself constantly or don’t trust #alecbaldwin to speak for himself? Take care of the kids for a damn change!! Where are Diego & Antonio?? https://t.co/rJtdyDXjxI @MailOnline
— Time4Me2Fly (@smallerpepino) October 30, 2021
Obsessed or not, the way Hilaria Baldwin presents her children on Instagram goes to larger concerns about online safety for kids and “sharenting” — when parents publish private information about their children on the internet. Among academic, legal and tech circles, there has been a growing focus on the need to protect children’s autonomy and privacy online and to maintain the health of the parent-child relationship.
On its own, the video of Hilaria Baldwin’s son reading his apology note raises a number of pressing questions: Did he give consent? Can a 6-year-old even give consent? How might the boy feel when he’s in middle or high school and his friends come across the video, in which his mother is arguably shaming him for the entertainment of her nearly 1 million followers?
While not commenting directly on Hilaria Baldwin’s post, Devorah Heitner, a media, technology and society author and founder of the website Raising Digital Natives, said it has become a disturbing trend for parents to post videos of their children acting out or having tantrums. Heitner said, “If you were having a meltdown and in tears, would you want that on the internet?”
Schiffer added that Hilaria may have posted her son’s apology video to show that she’s keeping her children under control and acting as a “an adult moral compass” while her husband is under criminal investigation. Of course, Hilaria’s critics would say she lost any moral authority a year ago when she, born and reared in Boston, was exposed for being an “identity hoaxer” who pretended to be “half-Spanish” to build her brand as a glamorous European immigrant.
In any case, publicizing one of her kids’ embarrassing moments is nothing new for Hilaria Baldwin and predates Hutchins’ death. As journalist Jo Piazza wrote last year in the New York Post, Baldwin is a ”marketing and publicity” genius who built a lucrative career with “overtly confessional” Instagram posts about her pregnancies and being a mom to multiple children.
Major brands probably paid her generously whenever she tagged them with photos that showed her children using their products, wearing their clothes or playing with their toys. She leveraged her Instagram fame into launching a popular parenting podcast, “Mom Brain,” and even into appearing as a “half-Spanish” “wellness expert” on healthy eating at the United Nations.
Hilaria’s Spanish heritage scandal, however, ended “Mom Brain” and her partnerships with many brands. But she has continued to share revealing photos of her exercising in her underwear, breastfeeding — sometimes two infants at once — and pumping milk, as well as images of her kids playing, needing their diapers changed or throwing tantrums. She apparently believes these posts help her come across as a hands-on mother who is authentic and relatable to her fans.
But as Hilaria accused a paparazzo last week of using long-lens cameras to photograph her children in their underwear, she herself posted multiple photos in 2020 of her sons in their underwear, explaining they are “underwear obsessed.” She also has shared photos of her kids in the bath or in the nude.
In just this way, Baldwin has violated a basic internet safety rule for families. Mothers and fathers have long been advised against ever posting photos of their children partially or completely naked, even ones that seem cute and innocent, because those images could fall into the hands of child pornographers and predators. Leah Plunkett, a University of New Hampshire law professor and author of the book “Sharentood,” added that it’s also important to teach children about body autonomy and boundaries.
“Sharenting” is a fraught issue in other ways, starting with the idea that parents have a fundamental right to direct the care of their children and to choose what to post about them online. Plunkett said many parents mean well when they share photos online, usually for the benefit of friends and family. “For most parents, it tends to start from a good place,” she said.
But influencers like Hilaria Baldwin, who engage in what Plunkett calls “commercial sharenting,” can put added pressure on children. While not commenting specifically on Baldwin, Plunkett said these children must go about their daily lives regularly expecting to be posed or recorded. They essentially must play “versions of themselves” for an audience of thousands or even millions of strangers.
In the process, children can be deprived of private time and space to play, to get into mischief and to make mistakes. Plunkett said playing is necessary for kids’ growth and to achieve “agency and autonomy.” These children also are basically being put to work by their parents, added Piazza in her podcast “Under the Influence,” about the mom influencer industry. Moreover, Piazza describes how these children, like adults on social media, can become targets for criticism and bullying about their appearance, well-being and behavior. That’s already happened with the Baldwin children.
Plunkett said it’s too soon to know whether children of influencers will grow up feeling exploited or otherwise struggle emotionally and psychologically. That’s because the billion-dollar influencer industry is so new.
However, Hollywood offers plenty of cautionary tales about deeply troubled child stars who suffered from growing up in the spotlight — from Judy Garland to Lindsay Lohan. But these days, even young film or TV stars have legal protections, regarding hours of labor and financial compensation, Plunkett said. These protections are not yet available to the children of influencers — again because the industry is so new.
Several months ago, Hilaria Baldwin gleefully announced that her 8-year-old daughter asked to get a headshot, as if to justify the girl’s regular participation in her Instagram posts. Hilaria also tends to say that her children insist that she post photos of them. That may be true, but experts say that children generally don’t grasp the implications of having an online presence until they are older.
In any case, it’s not likely that Hilaria or Alec Baldwin will stop posting on social media, especially if both continue to feel aggrieved about media criticism in the wake of Hutchins’ death. But Heitner strongly urges everyone else to get their kids’ permission before posting their photos online, while Plunkett offered this basic guideline: Don’t share anything about your child that your adolescent self wouldn’t have wanted your parent to have shared about you.