Balenciaga child photoshoot bdsm pedophilia
© Balenciaga
The label has apologised for photographing young girls in BDSM outfits.

Sometimes the hardest thing about discerning what is real or fake on the internet is that the truth can be so absurd and unbelievable. For example, if you came across this advertisement on Twitter, featuring a young child holding a teddy bear in bondage gear, you would be forgiven for assuming you were being trolled. Yet this is a real campaign by Balenciaga, the high-end fashion line with over 11 million followers on Instagram.

The more you look, the worse it gets. This picture features a young girl holding a toy wearing fishnets, restraints and a padlock, with bruised purple and blue eyes (Balenciaga have been called out before for glamourising domestic violence, after they painted black eyes and a bloody nose on a model). This picture focuses on a girl lying down on a sofa surrounded by empty wine glasses, while this photo includes tape with the letters BAAL: a pagan God who demanded child sacrifice. This picture shows documents from the court case Ashcroft v Free Speech Coalition, a controversial ruling that struck down a portion of the Child Pornography Protection Act after it deemed that online child pornography is protected free speech.

Stranger still is the muted response on social media. Where are the boycotts? Why did Instagram let the campaign run? Kim Kardashian, one of the brand's ambassadors, has been noticeably silent, which is ironic given her quickness to condemn anti-Semitism after her ex-husband Kanye West was dropped by Balenciaga last month. Balenciaga issued an 'apology' on their Instagram stories (which conveniently delete themselves after 24 hours) but the company has since deactivated its Instagram altogether. The brand already left Twitter after Musk's takeover, and since they didn't elaborate on their reasons for doing so, many have re-evaluated this decision in light of Musk's promise to crack down on content that involves child sexual exploitation.

Balenciaga's 'apology' may try to lay the blame with the set designers, but the reality is that the campaign will have been viewed by dozens if not hundreds of employees, and would never have been signed off without consent from high levels. There are plenty of photos and campaigns still running with disturbing set choices — for example, several photographs include a copy of Michael Borreman's book Fire From The Sun, a collection of portraits of naked toddlers with "sinister overtones and insinuations of violence."

Perhaps it is all part of a sinister PR strategy — controversy drives coverage, which drives consumption. Perhaps this is just another example of a fashion house shock tactics: after all, who can forget Bennetton's long history of using graphic images, such as a newborn baby complete with an umbilical cord, or the Pope kissing an Egyptian imam?

Yet this may also be a part of a wider social trend in which sexual violence is glorified, fetishes are normalised, where #KinkTok has over 12 billion views, and brands can continue to push boundaries without real consequences. Kanye West claims to have lost $2billion in a day for his anti-Semitic comments, while basketball star Kyrie Irving was suspended for 8 games for his links to a film with anti-Semitic material. How much will Balenciaga pay for their latest shoot?