Twitter can be many things to many people. It can be informative, therapeutic, friendly, hilarious, educational; or it can be dangerous, hurtful, and unforgiving. And after this Billboard tweet about North West, Twitter can be a thing that makes you doubt your ability to deal with the Internet ever again. Celebrities are no strangers to harsh criticism and angry backlash, especially on Twitter. With the comfort and security of anonymity, keyboard warriors the world over have found it necessary to harass, threaten, and verbally abuse famous people. It would be great if our boundaries were more respectful when it came to talking about famous children, but that's not generally the case.
It's no wonder that multiple celebrities leave Twitter, choosing to forego their 140-character personas and step away from the additional exposure to the sometimes unkind commentary. From Lena Dunham to Zelda Williams, both of whom have quit Twitter for extended periods of time, to Jennifer Lawrence, who refuses to set up an account altogether, celebrities are taking greater steps to protect themselves and their mental health.
People like Kim Kardashian, who are extremely active on social media, successfully using platforms like Twitter to promote their brand, their products, and themselves, face even more vulnerability to hurtful engagement than most. Despite harsh criticism from the worst kind of Internet trolls, Kardashian has remained vigilant in keeping up her online presence. But what happens when it's not the celebrity, but a celebrity's child, who falls under attack? Does a parent choosing to be active on social media open up their kids to attack by extension?
Kim is now facing that exact question: A tweet was sent by Billboard that many saw as sexualizing North West, Kim Kardashian West and Kanye West's daughter.
Billboard promptly removed the tweet and issued an apology:
(Which some people weren't totally buying...)
Bustle reached out to Billboard for comment, at which time they confirmed that the apology tweet "is the extent of Billboard's comment."
Billboard has since deleted the tweet, but the Internet doesn't forget. Public backlash was swift and unrelenting, as the intelligent, caring part of Twitter made their disgust and disappointment known:
And if the sexualization of a child isn't enough to get your blood boiling, there are also the possible racist implications, as many believe the tweet to be racially targeted.
What matters most is not even what Billboard tweeted. We could play the infer-and-deny game about that tweet all day long, when the larger truth here for all of us here, is this: Celebrity kids are not our property, and when we fail to respect that truth (as we so often do), we leave ourselves open to sorely mishandling how we talk about them. To whatever degree we are obligated to respect the privacy of famous adults, there's at least the argument that they chose to be famous; in some ways, you could say they knew the level of hyper-exposure they were signing up for, so they can't complain when the media doesn't treat them like kid.
But you know who we should be treating like kids? Actual kids.
Even if, as Billboard says, the tweet was an innocent misunderstanding, the fact that it was so easy for readers to assume malicious subtext speaks to a problem that very much does exist: it wouldn't be altogether unimaginable for someone to say something like that. Somewhere along the way, society stopped viewing famous people and their families as human beings, and have instead degraded them and their offspring for tasteless amusement and personal gain. Before a tweet like Billboard's ever existed, our overall celebrity-hungry population silently decided that celebrity children were "fair game," creating a dangerous precedent in which the sexualization of a small child seems like a relatively normal and otherwise acceptable thing to do.
But regardless of any personal feelings anyone may have towards Kardashian, her claim to fame, or her child, you have to remember: She is a human. Her daughter is a child and also a human. It's time we start treating her like that.