BALTIMORE (WJZ) — WJZ has an update on a Maryland family that sparked controversy after posting videos of pranks involving their children on YouTube.
Child abuse investigations were launched after one of their sons was seen sobbing in one of the videos.
Now, WJZ has learned that the Martins are involved in a custody dispute involving two of the children. There is a gag order in place so the family can no longer do interviews, but WJZ spoke with them before the judge’s order was issued.
The Martins told us they got sucked into a social media firestorm, fueled by fame and fortune. They admit they went too far and have regrets.
Almost 5 billion videos are viewed on YouTube every day. The social media juggernaut is credited with launching regular people into super stardom.
From Justin Bieber, whose career skyrocketed after a talent scout spotted him on the site, to South Korean singer PSY, whose now-famous music video for the song Gangnam Style has been viewed more than 2 billion times.
That fame and fortune inspired the Martins, a Frederick County family, to attract as many fans as possible by creating outrageous prank videos.
“The kids would watch other big-name YouTubers and say, ‘We can do that! We’re fun, we’re awesome!,” Heather Martin said.
The family’s hundreds of videos show everything from smashing electronics, to a fake robbery, and other elaborate pranks to terrify their five children. The Martins quickly reached 800,000 followers.
“We were just messing around one day, having fun, joking around and we ended up doing the prank and we put it on YouTube and it blew up!” Mike Martin says.
But one video in particular, posted in April, changed everything for the Martins. It shows their son sobbing as they scream at him for spilling ink, something they actually put there for the prank.
The video went viral, and outraged fans went on the attack, accusing Heather and Mike of exploiting their children. It triggered an international firestorm and child abuse investigations.
“For us, each person was a character and we didn’t step back and realize how that would look…and we felt like it was unsaid in the YouTube community that things like that were fake, but people people believe it,” Heather said.
It’s part of a growing trend — the more shocking the content, the more people want to watch.
And as Dr. Elliot King, a social media expert and professor at Loyola University, tells WJZ, the more views you get, the better your chances at making money.
“If it has this ‘you can’t believe this’ factor to it, people want to see what they can’t believe… You get hits, you get paid,” he said.
And that’s how Heather and Mike cashed in on their new-found celebrity. They won’t tell WJZ how much they made, but it changed their lives.
“We were able to move the kids here, we were able to put them in better schools, we were able to do college funds, and we just really felt like we were able to give them a better life,” Heather said.
When asked if they regret anything, Heather said: “We really do regret the choices we’ve made as parents and what we’ve allowed to be on the Internet.”
The Martin’s are now in family counseling, working with life coaches and are no longer posting these prank videos. Because of the court-ordered gag order, the Martins will not be speaking publicly in the immediate future.