YouTube shut down a popular channel about a family’s zany adventures on Wednesday following allegations that the woman making the videos was abusing her children.
Police in Arizona arrested Machelle Hackney earlier this month in connection with allegations of child abuse. Hackney runs the YouTube channel “Fantastic Adventures,” which has amassed more than 800,000 subscribers with videos of her seven adopted kids performing in sketches, embarking on superhero-themed adventures, and running around with nerf guns.
But police say that the picture presented online is far from what life was like when the camera wasn’t rolling.
Hackney punished the kids with starvation, beatings, and restricted access to the bathroom when they didn’t follow proper direction or forgot their lines during filming for YouTube videos, according to records from police in Maricopa, Arizona, who performed a wellness check on the family at their home.
YouTube terminated the account on Wednesday afternoon for “violating YouTube’s Community Guidelines.” All details of the channel, and its videos, have been removed from the video-sharing platform.
When police performed the welfare check, officers found children who “appeared to be malnourished, due to their pale complexion, dark rings under their eyes, underweight, and they stated they were thirsty and hungry,” according to the Washington Post. One of the children told police they hadn’t attended school “in years,” and instead spent his time “in the green screen room” where YouTube videos were filmed, the Post reports.
Some of the kids detailed instances of abuse to police, Buzzfeed News reports. One kid said Hackney had pepper-sprayed her vagina, and another said she “would pinch the tip of his penis with her nails until it bled.”
“We take safety on YouTube very seriously,” YouTube said in a statement. “We work closely with leading child safety organizations and others in our industry to protect young people. When we’re made aware of serious allegations of this nature we take action.”
YouTube had initially demonetized the channel when it was made first made aware of the arrest. That means that YouTube had marked the “Fantastic Adventures” videos as not “advertiser-friendly,” so the channel wasn’t able to make revenue from ads that appear before (and during) YouTube videos.
Hackney is being held in jail without bond on seven counts of child abuse, five counts of unlawful imprisonment and two counts of child molestation, NBC News reports. Her adult sons, Logan and Ryan Hackney, reportedly face charged for failing to report abuse.
Hackney reportedly denies abusing her children, and said the only type of punishment she has used is spanking and grounding them, according to NBC News. Since Hackney’s arrest, all seven of the adopted children in Hackney’s care have been removed from the home, NBC News says.
YouTube doesn’t provide numbers on how much specific creators make from their videos. But SocialBlade, a site that tracks various YouTube metrics, estimates that the “Fantastic Adventures” channel could earn anywhere from $8,900 to $142,400 each month.
Previously, YouTube said it would only terminate the account “upon conclusion of an investigation.” This is a stance that the platform has taken in the past, such as with the SevenAwesomeKids channels. The owner of the channels, Ian Rylett, was first arrested in 2018 in connection with allegations of child abuse. The collection of SevenAwesomeKids channels wasn’t terminated until earlier this month, after Rylett pleaded guilty to child abuse charges, Tubefilter reported.
Just last month, YouTube announced it would be turning off comments on videos featuring children and minors “that could be at risk of attracting predatory behavior.” YouTube has been facing criticism for its lack of action in keeping children on the platform safe, and the discovery of predatory comments made on millions of videos with children.
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