YouTube stars lose child custody following prank videos

YouTube prank videos (and their scientifically dubious cousin “the experiment”) are, as I’ve written before, a pretty grubby corner of the internet. With no regulation as we have with television, an untrackable 65 years of material uploaded every day, and a revenue model that rewards outrage, you have a toxic mix that leads to some unpleasantly exploitative stuff.

However, get too much attention and your videos can have real-life consequences, as YouTube star DaddyOFive – real name Mike Martin – just discovered, as he and his wife Heather lost custody of two of their children.

The DaddyOFive channel, which at the time of writing has 763,015 subscribers, was previously home to a number of prank videos, which have been taken down and replaced with a public apology. As you can see in the video below from YouTuber Philip DeFranco, the couple published prank videos featuring the children being sworn at, yelled at and pushed around for things that they didn’t actually do. The children are often visibly traumatised. A warning before you press play: like much of YouTube’s pranking culture, it’s pretty unpleasant.

Well, two of the children – Cody and Emma – are now in the custody of their biological mother, Rose Hall, after she applied for emergency custody. “Emma and Cody are with me, I have emergency custody – they’re doing good,” explains Hall in a YouTube video with her lawyer. “They’re getting back to their playful selves,” she explains, adding that it was “very heartbreaking and disturbing to see my kids be abused.”

Previously, Martin had claimed that many of the videos were faked and planned in advance, although as criticism was gathering pace towards the end of April, he did release a statement on Twitter claiming that they were discussing “different alternatives for our future videos.” This was a change of tone from a video where he previously complained that critics were merely “haters”.

Just ahead of the emergency custody, Mike and Heather Martin had appeared on Good Morning America to apologise for their actions. “I am ashamed. It started out as family fun,” said Mike. “It started with me and my kids, but then it was just about making a video and then making the next video more crazier than the next.”

Yep. That’s the YouTube prank model, alright. How else can you compete with the millions of videos uploaded every month, without getting increasingly distasteful?

“What you see on our YouTube channel is not a reflection of who we are. It’s not,” added Heather Martin. “It was a character. It was a show, a bad show, but it was a show.”

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