SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) — A virtual hearing for the YouTube mother accused of child abuse devolved into moments of chaos after the hearing was flooded by social media influencers eager to sit in on her initial appearance in the Utah courts.
Local and national media outlets struggled to get into the virtual courtroom to cover the hearing on Friday afternoon as young adults and individuals who appeared to be in their early teens signed in. The State Court later confirmed its virtual room was “overloaded.”
“We understand that everyone is having trouble accessing the Franke/Hildebrandt hearing,” said the State Court through a private media-only Twitter account. “We currently have 1,100 people in the hearing and are trying to add more.”
The virtual courtroom quickly degraded into chaos as several on the call left their microphones on. Despite calls from the Utah State Court for mics to be muted and cameras to be turned off, sound effects and music blared through portions of the meeting. Soon attendees began using profanities and explicit name-calling, dropping multiple “f-bombs,” before someone pointed out the virtual hearing is still considered an official courtroom.
“You guys realize this is still a real courtroom right? So you can still be held in contempt,” said an attendee whose screen name simply reads “Bob.”
The public is allowed to attend most court hearings, even if the hearing is being held remotely. The Utah State Court website even provides an “easy guide” on how to find and participate in a remote court hearing.
The hearing was delayed by the overload of attendees as the court intended the session to hear several cases during the session. Many defendants and attorneys also had trouble attending their own virtual hearing as the courtroom was “full” and would not allow for additional attendees.
The case of Ruby Franke and Jodi Hildebrandt took social media and national headlines by storm in recent weeks. The two were arrested in August on charges of child abuse after one of Ruby Franke’s children reportedly climbed out of a window at an Ivins, Utah home owned by Hildebrandt. The child ran to a neighbor’s house who said the child was malnourished and had “deep lacerations” from being tied up with rope.
The case captured the attention of the internet due to Franke’s own influence on social media. Franke, who ran her own YouTube channel called “8 Passengers” garnered 2.8 million subscribers before her channel was taken down.
Videos on social media giant TikTok of users talking about the case were viewed millions of times. Commenters talked about how often they used to watch Franke on YouTube or shared concern for the kids. Other video commenters shared their general thoughts on the case, criticizing Franke.
The hearing itself lasted only a few minutes. A request was made to assign Franke to the same judge assigned to Jodi Hildebrandt, which the court and prosecutors approved with no objections.