Legally Weird - The FindLaw Legal Curiosities Blog

When Pranking Your Kids on YouTube Becomes Criminal

Pranking has been a favorite American pastime for decades, dating back to Candid Camera and Three Stooges to present-day What Would You Do? and Johnny Knoxville. It's one thing when the pranks are staged and the victims are knowing adults. It's an entirely different thing when the victims are your own children.

With the advent of IRL (In Real Life) webisodes, monetized according to popularity on YouTube and Facebook, it should come as no surprise that some families are going to take it too far. One has, but the question might be, who's to blame?

Crooks Are Stupid

Michael and Heather Martin are the parents behind the infamous, and now defunct, YouTube channels DaddyOFive and FamilyOFive. In 2017, they lost custody of two of their five children, and put on probation after pleading no contest to child neglect based on pranks they pulled on their children and broadcasted on YouTube. The pranks show the parents using extreme emotional and psychological abuse to force the children to cry. And then try to make everything right with a "just kidding" ending.

The Martins, who are still on probation for child neglect, continued to torment their remaining three children with pranks, posting them on their new YouTube channel, FamilyOFive. (An appropriate title, after losing custody of two children.) The Martins counter that they are the target of these pranks rather than the children. However, the children are brought into the pranks, and must endure more of these pranks after losing their two siblings through neglect. Some may consider that abuse in its own right. Thankfully, YouTube shut down the FamilyOFive channel last week.

One can say that these are horrible, horrible parents. Or maybe they are stupid parents for thinking they could broadcast these acts and not get caught. But what's equally disturbing is that their channel at one point had over 700,000 subscribers. They were earning a notable income generating revenue as YouTubers. Perhaps society hasn't evolved much past the Roman Gladiators.

Pranks as Genre

Pranks have long been one of the more popular genres on YouTube. In 2016, Tubular Labs estimated that searches for prank-related videos on social media sites account for some 7 billion views. Some people have an unquenchable thirst to be famous, and believe pranking is their ticket to stardom. But it can also be your pass to go directly to jail:

  • Trollstation pranksters that were sentenced for putting pantyhose over their faces and running through London's National Portrait Gallery yelling "Get the paintings!"
  • Staged drive-by shootings and bombings in Melbourne by people dressed up to look like Middle Eastern terrorists.
  • The Nelk pranksters from Toronto were pulled over for a traffic stop by Los Angeles police officers, and told the officers that they had a bunch of coke" in the back of their car.

YouTube claims to take pranking seriously, having strict policies that prohibit misconduct, and inviting users to flag content they believe to be inappropriate. This is a bonus over Facebook, which has no such policies. But in the meantime, both companies will gladly continue making ad dollars over prank videos.

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