Last August, in a leafy, sleepy neighbourhood in Ivins, Utah, a resident opened his door to find a malnourished 12-year-old boy on his doorstep. The child had wounds from tape around his wrists and ankles, and was asking for food and water.
The neighbour called police, telling them he believed the lad had been imprisoned and maltreated, leading to cops conducting a welfare check on a nearby property and finding a 10-year-old girl in a similar state.
In what is alleged to be a disturbing case of extreme-discipline parenting, police say those wounds and malnourishment were caused by the children’s mother, YouTuber and vlogger Ruby Franke, and her online collaborator, mental health counsellor Jodi Hildebrandt, whose home the children had fled.
Ruby, a Mormon who was separated from her husband, operated the parenting blog and YouTube channel 8 Passengers, where she would showcase her strict parenting style to her 2.5 million subscribers. She described punishing her six children by taking away their “privilege to eat dinner” or making her 15-year-old sleep on a beanbag for seven months after pranking a sibling.
The 41-year-old later joined mother-of-two Jodi, 54, in running the self-improvement channel ConneXions and the Moms Of Truth podcast.
The two women have now been charged with multiple counts of aggravated child abuse. After her mother’s arrest, Ruby’s oldest daughter Shari posted a story showing a police car with the caption “finally”, later writing that her siblings were doing OK and that her family was “so glad justice is being served”.
This is not the first time a popular mummy blogger has shocked the world by presenting an image of themselves that’s very different online to their behaviour away from cameras.
Californian mum Jordan Cheyenne, 32, who posted vlogs about raising her son Christian, uploaded a video in 2021 breaking sad news about their puppy to followers. But in footage that Jordan had presumably intended to edit out, she is seen coaching the boy to “act like you’re crying”. She swiftly deleted her channel, signing off, “I love my child more than anything and will regret this moment forever.”
In 2017, Myka Stauffer and her husband James from The Stauffer Life adopted a two-year-old boy, Huxley, from China in an emotional journey they documented in video diaries.
Then, in 2020, it emerged the couple had allegedly “rehomed” the boy after he proved too challenging to handle, sparking accusations they had adopted him to get more viewers and followers.
Myka denied this, saying they’d been advised by medical professionals that the autistic boy needed “a different fit – he needed more”, but she apologised to her followers, saying she wanted to “take full responsibility for the damage I have caused”.
The Stauffers were cleared of any wrongdoing after police received multiple requests to check on the boy’s welfare and Myka, 36, has not been visible on any of her social media channels since 2020. Her husband, meanwhile, still has a YouTube channel with 1.3 million subscribers, where he showcases his work detailing second-hand cars.
Arizona mummy blogger Machelle Hobson had millions of followers on her YouTube channel Fantastic Adventures, before it emerged in 2019 she was violently punishing her adopted children if they didn’t perform as instructed on video. There was an ongoing criminal case against her when she died of natural causes.
Other “mumfluencers” have trolled people online. In England in 2020, Clemmie Hooper, a part-time midwife who had 700,000 followers for her Mother Of Daughters account, was caught posting disparaging and racist comments under a pseudonym about other blogging parents. She apologised saying, “Undoubtedly, I got lost in this online world.”
Clemmie, 33, deleted her online presence and, last March, was handed a one-year caution order following a midwifery misconduct hearing.
Meanwhile, Aussie broadcaster and blogger Constance Hall, 40, has frequently talked about how she deals with the dark side of fame and bullying from trolls for putting her private and family life online for public scrutiny.
In a 2019 Facebook post, she read out some of the abusive messages she regularly received and admitted, “I don’t think you can ever get to a place where it doesn’t hurt at all.”