The Current

Where's the line when it comes to prank videos and children?

DaddyOFive father Mike Martin learns a hard legal lesson about parenting and pranking on the internet.
DaddyOFive Youtube family Mike Martin and his five kids are the centre of online backlash against the so-called pranks played on the kids that have resulted in two of the youngest kids taken out of the Martin's home. (Facebook)

Read story transcript

Mike and Heather Martin have over 760,000 subscribers on their DaddyOFive YouTube channel — and it's the content of videos posted that is the centre of a growing controversy over what is being called the dark side of so-called prank videos.

Last week, after online backlash over concern for the welfare of Martin's children came to surface, a tearful apology was issued by the parents.

"It was more for shock value, it's a character ... some stuff is real, some stuff was acted out, scripted," Heather says in the video.

This week it was confirmed the two youngest kids — who are nine and 12 — were taken out of the home that Mike Martin shares with their step-mother Heather. Their biological mother Rose Hall has been given temporary emergency custody.

There are  are nearly 300 videos that exist on the DaddyOFive Youtube channel but The Baltimore Sun blogger and reporter Brittany Britto says the most disturbing video to her was one where the father Michael Martin pushed his son, Cody.

"It appears he pushes him into a bookcase and it seems as though his nose starts bleeding and you can even see him go to a pillow and kind of wipe his face — and there's red on the pillow. So a lot of the public was really disturbed by that," Britto tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

She explains that most videos include yelling at the kids and several show Michael smashing toys — namely Xbox consoles. 
Downfall of DaddyOFive family YouTube channel reveals dark side of prank videos. (Facebook)

In one video, while the kids were fighting, Britto says Michael instructed his son to slap his daughter "as if it was a game."

When Britto spoke to Heather, she tells Tremonti she was told the videos started as "family fun and the pranks were real. But over time they became scripted and character acting."

Related: 'DaddyOFive' wife 'MommyOFive' speaks to reporter

The Martins have reacted to the backlash before their apology, Britto says, pointing to "the viewers who are taking issue with their videos and making comments [as] the ones that were bringing drama to their children — not the actual pranks."

Whether they are real or scripted, the Martin family videos raise ethical questions, especially about the use of children in videos on a social media platforms.  

Bob Thompson, director at the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University, says the DaddyOFive videos "are hard to stop watching because you can't believe that it's happening."

"However it's really hard to rationally discuss this particular case because we know so little about what is exactly happening, including this idea of how scripted it is, " Thompson tells Tremonti.

"Even if the kids are part of it, should you be doing that kind of thing with your kids and putting it up for the world to see?" asks Thompson.

"These kids have very little say in whether they're on these shows, whether they're reality shows on cable or these YouTube videos."

There's certainly an appeal to pranks, with shows like candid camera reality shows, but Thompson says social media takes it to a level that "has virtually no standards."

"Some of the stuff is getting really mean-spirited and scary and creepy."

Listen to the full segment at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Shannon Higgins, Ines Colabrese and Seher Asaf.