The custody case of DaddyOFive reveals the dark side of YouTube fame

Rosie Millard

It’s difficult to know how to approach the cautionary tale of Mike Martin, also known as DaddyOFive, a character from Maryland who posts “wildly popular” videos of his parenting “pranks” with his quintet of kids on YouTube. Or rather, posted them, until he was hounded off the internet amid accusations of child cruelty, since when two of his offspring have been returned to their biological mother.

Indeed, the story of DaddyOFive is a bit like the story of Rumplestiltskin, only in this fairy tale the wicked figure of the title wants to spin gold not from straw but from his magic camera. Mike Martin’s big idea was to record himself playing tricks on his kids, and then of himself shouting at them, and then recording how upset they are. Presumably he did this hoping that he and his progeny would become an internet sensation, rather like a noisy version of the Kardashians.

At the beginning, apparently, he managed to hook quite a big audience. But as the pranks escalated and so did the screaming and swearing it transpires that after all, people don’t like watching adults filming themselves shouting at frightened, crying children and complained to the authorities about child abuse. Hence, instead of turning everything to gold, it all went south for DaddyOFive. His recent post shows no shouting, and no kids either. Just him and his current wife appearing, crestfallen, in an apologetic video.

“We’re so-o-o-orry,” blubs Heather, tears pouring down. “We’ve had the worst week of our li-i-ves.”

Martin is strangely silent. He’s probably wondering how it all went so wrong, when it looked so straightforward at first. Easy, really. Film your chaotic but lovable household, with the kids messin’ about and getting the odd amount of sharp talking from your lovable and equally chaotic Dada. Play tricks on them, such as saying they are adopted. Hilarious! Particularly with small son Cody, aged 9. Push him into a bookcase, that sort of thing. Tell him off for a messy bedroom. Kerching!

From the evidence of films still up online, Cody, it has to be said, is one tough kid. “I am going to stay in here until I DIE,” he says at one point, sitting in an empty bath and threatening to throw a small plastic bin at his father. He doesn’t give up. Even when he is pulled out from a cupboard and thrown on the ground in an army-style tackle. Even when he is denied a trip to Disney as punishment for some small misdemeanour. Even when Martin attempts to pull him down the stairs. It is truly miserable to watch.

Now, unless you are a complete saint most parents have, on occasion, shouted at their children. And most children shout back. But where the mindset of most normal parents and the brain of DaddyOFive diverge is that normal parents do not enjoy those shouting moments. They do not play tricks on their kids purely to upset them. Furthermore, they do not film the shouting and the screaming and hope that it will become an internet sensation.

What DaddyOFive is an extreme example of, of course, is people who confuse being outrageous with being magnetic; it’s like those people on reality shows who think if they are outlandish enough, they will receive accolades, become famous and end up launching a lucrative fragrance franchise. The audience bays for more and more transgression on screen, and people lose their minds. But audiences turn. The internet is now full of righteous YouTubers articulating their distress while showing clips of little Cody crying. Indeed, Cody’s mother has thanked the YouTube community for drawing the attention of the authorities to the way her son was being treated.

Now that it is harnessed to the awesome power of social media, it’s clear the humble camera can cause people to lose their minds. People like 22-year-old Dean Steele, killed by a car on a German autobahn as he tried to take a selfie in the central reservation. People like DaddyOFive. Would he have been like this had he not had a camera, a cast of five children and the knowledge that a subsequent post might attract several thousand likes? Let us pray not.