In a horrifying crime that could only happen in our dystopic present, Machelle Hackney was arrested in Pinal County, Arizona, for abusing her adopted children when they didn’t follow directions or forgot their lines when filming videos for her popular — and profitable — YouTube channel. Now, the platform has taken the channel, Fantastic Adventures, offline.
Before it was shut down, Fantastic Adventures had more than 242 million views and 700,000 subscribers. People tuned in for family-friendly videos, mostly sketch comedy and superhero adventures, made by Hackney, her two adult sons, and seven adopted kids.
Hackney’s sons were also arrested for failing to report abuse of a minor. Police were alerted when Hackney’s biological daughter called them after her adopted siblings detailed the abuse they’d suffered.
NBC News reports that Hackney, who goes by her maiden name of Hobson, is accused of pepper-spraying her kids, including on their genitals, spanking them, and forcing them to take ice baths and hold their heads underwater. The kids also were punished by being forced to stand with their hands raised over their heads for several hours at a time.
Hackney would also lock them in a closet for days and deprive them of food and water. One boy told police she pinched the tip of his penis until it bled.
All of the kids, according to the probable cause statement, “appeared to be malnourished, due to their pale complexion, dark rings under their eyes, underweight, and they stated they were thirsty and hungry” when authorities found them. They have been removed from Hackney’s care.
The case is reminiscent of Michael and Heather Martin, a couple that lost custody of two of their kids and placed on probation for child neglect after pranking their kids and publishing the videos on three different YouTube channels. The site similarly shut those channels down after the allegations came to light, though that didn’t stop the Martins from pranking other kids.
The Hackney case is the latest in a series of scandals for the video streaming site involving kids. It’s recently been used to nefarious ends by everyone from pedophiles to trolls promoting self-harm to anti-vaxxers spreading misinformation.