The creator of an immensely popular YouTube channel is facing serious child abuse charges after being accused of torturing her seven children as punishment for mistakes made while filming those videos.
NBC News reports Arizona woman Machelle Hackney was arrested and charged by the Maricopa Police Department on Friday on suspicion of beating her children, pepper-spraying them, keeping them from school, withholding access to food, water, and the bathroom, and forcing their heads into ice baths, among other offences.
The reported police findings are disturbing. In a probable cause statement, Maricopa Police Department said one of the boys found at the home said Hackney had pinched the tip of his penis until she drew blood, and one girl reported Hackney pepper-sprayed her genitals.
Police state one of the children was found in an unlocked closet wearing nothing but a diaper. One child also told authorities he “was in the green screen room most of his life,” referring to the green screens filmmakers use to edit backdrops into videos.
Hackney faces seven counts of child abuse, in addition to five counts of unlawful imprisonment and two counts of child molestation. Hackney has denied the charges, saying she only used spankings, groundings, and standing in the corner as punishment.
The alleged abuse was reported to police by her adult daughter. Two of Hackney’s adult sons, Logan and Ryan Hackney, were both charged for failing to bring the alleged abuse to authorities.
The reportedly malnourished children were removed from the home by the Department of Child Services.
Hackney had run Fantastic Adventures, a YouTube channel which boasted more than 700,000 subscribers and in excess of 242 million views across its videos. The videos often featured the children, aged between 3 and 15, acting out superhero scenarios with adults or participating in NERF gun fights.
YouTube confirmed to BuzzFeed News the channel’s videos had been demonetised after the allegations were made public. At time of writing, the channel appears to have been deleted.
Attempting to view a Fantastic Adventures video with 10 million views leads to a blank page with the message “This video is no longer available because the YouTube account associated with this video has been closed.”
This is not the first time YouTuber parents have been accused of abusing their children in service of their videos. In 2017, the parents behind popular account DaddyOFive, which featured confronting ‘prank’ videos featuring their kids, lost custody of two of their children after being convicted of child neglect.
The charges against Hackney come amid a broader discussion about the kind of videos aimed at children on YouTube, and the often disturbing content that can easily be found – or dredged up by the platform’s video suggestion algorithm itself.
A preliminary hearing on Hackney’s case is slated for March 26.
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