Danielle Cohn Doesn't Owe Us Anything
“I hate this video,” YouTube and TikTok star Danielle Cohn says. Titled “The Truth About My Abortion,” Cohn posted it on Monday after audio of a conversation with her mother leaked online. In it, Jennifer Archambault tells her daughter, who is believed to be anywhere from 14 to 16 years old (Cohn and her family give differing answers about her age), that she “allowed [her] to have an abortion,” something not previously discussed by the creator. While TikTok is no stranger to creator drama, particularly between teenagers, this latest development highlights the underbelly of being a wunderkind on the app as minors are forced into public conversations we wouldn’t ask from mainstream, adult celebrities.
The appeal of online stars like Cohn and her contemporaries is, in many ways, their vulnerability. They sign up to give their fans unfettered access to their lives. We watched Charli D’Amelio and Chase Hudson snipe about their breakup over Twitter the same way we watched our peers argue in the halls of high school. It’s why fans likely felt comfortable demanding answers from Cohn on such a serious topic in the first place. The leaked audio was part of a bigger discussion about Cohn’s safety under the care of Archambault. Fans took it upon themselves to call attention to what they felt was improper treatment of the TikTok star, but this public rally for justice ended up only hurting Cohn.
“The fact that I have to even talk about it sucks because this is such a personal subject that nobody needs to know...but now all my followers know,” Cohn says in the video, in which she confirms that she did receive an abortion earlier this year. Her experience is heartbreaking: she googled things like “reasons to miss your period that aren’t pregnancy,” underwent the procedure in secret, and was shut out by the unnamed person who she says impregnated her. As a public figure, she tells girls not to be ashamed, that doing this is okay. As a teenager, she also concedes that she feels horrible, that she made a mistake by having sex in the first place.
Regardless of how one feels on the issue of abortion (Cohn says she was against it until she found herself in this position), it is not uncommon among teenagers. It can be an emotional ordeal or a straightforward decision, but those grappling with these things are typically afforded privacy. In an effort to supposedly better Cohn’s childhood, fans took another step towards eliminating it.
“I don’t know how many times I can say sorry,” she says, but the number of times she should have to is zero. Something like this doesn’t warrant a public explanation from anyone, least of all a teenager. But even in the past few months, our definition of a public figure has broadened enough that even People is writing up the breakups of 16-year-old social media stars.
This increased access is net good. Success has become much more attainable on apps like TikTok (although the most popular creators are still majority-white). But public interest is now colliding with the boundaries of what’s ethical to publicize. Scrutiny is not one size fits all, and it’s clear at some point there will need to be guidance for online creators the way there are standards in journalism. Cohn does not owe anyone her story.
“I thought my life was over when [the audio] came out,” she admits. But until there’s change in the industry, this is just another all-too-typical day.