When homeowners in suburban Utah called the police on Aug. 30, they were just trying to help a young boy. Police reports from that day detail that a 12-year-old had escaped from a nearby house and asked neighbors for help but appeared to be “emaciated, malnourished,” and had “open wounds,” which prompted the neighbors to call first responders. According to a 9-1-1 call obtained by local Utah TV station KSL, the child said he had been in the house of her local businesswoman and therapist Jodi Hildebrandt. And when asked about his parents, the child named an infamous YouTuber and family vlogging star whose career has been dogged for year by criticisms and allegations of abuse: Ruby Franke

Later that day, Franke and Hildebrandt were arrested and held under suspicion of two counts of aggravated child abuse. And last week, the two women were each officially charged with six counts of aggravated child abuse. But in the days following their arrest, it hasn’t just been national news interested in the case. Online news of Franke’s abuse allegations has once again jumpstarted TikTok’s true-crime machine, conforming to an established pattern of drama, hearsay, and viral rumors. Franke has been charged with a serious crime and will have to answer for any potential wrongdoings. But beyond believing Franke is guilty, they think they already have the evidence to prove it and are actively spreading misinformation — a process that’s prioritizing sensationalization over justice or closure for her alleged victims.

Prior to her arrest, Franke was already a well-known name in internet spaces. As a family vlogger who used to post hours of content detailing her parenting process, punishment techniques, and the lives of her six children on her channel “8 Passengers,” the YouTuber was often plagued by criticism of being too harsh on her kids. In 2020, following a Change.org petition with 17,000 signatures, Franke told Insider that Child Protectives Services had shown up at her doorstep — and both she and her husband, Kevin Franke, said that the internet had blown their videos out of proportion. Franke called her haters “enemies” and said the children prayed for them, while Kevin denied that the children were being mistreated. “He’s definitely not chained in our basement,” Kevin said of their older son. (Representatives for Kevin did not respond to Rolling Stone’s request for comment.)

But rumors and gossip about the channel continued, so much so that it became fairly popular for accounts to comb through old videos and post clips as evidence of alleged abuse. On YouTube, 8 Passengers became the subject of short documentaries and highly edited compilations of Franke seemingly being mean to her children, some of which have been viewed over 20 million times. There are dozens of snarky subreddits dedicated to poking fun at Franke’s parenting methods. On TikTok, videos related to 8 Passeners have over 2.4 billion views, but many of the top 25 videos were created prior to the arrest. So when Franke was legitimately accused of abuse by authorities, TikTok’s true crime fandom, one usually forced to sift through scraps of information, was suddenly armed with an overabundance of content. The result has been slowly building interest in a case that is leaving the social media app drowning under speculation. 

In one example, a TikTok account popularized during the Amber Heard/Johnny Depp trial has posted over 84 videos about Franke since her arrest, each with wild claims backed up with no evidence except speculation and clips of Franke’s old vlogs. One video claims Franke’s children have already filed a lawsuit against the YouTuber for abuse and defamation, while others claim Franke filmed sexual abuse in now-deleted videos. None of the claims could be substantiated by Rolling Stone. The account has over 300,000 followers, and each Franke-related video has upwards of 20,000 views. Another theory that’s been popularized on the app is that the rest of Franke’s children were found in a panic room in Hildebrant’s house, even though police said only one other child was found in Hildebrant’s home. One singular video related to the theory has over 1.4 million views and has been bookmarked over 10,000 times. 

And the increased interest hasn’t just stayed on the app. During an initial court hearing on Friday, the public Zoom link was overwhelmed by so many interested viewers that it was delayed. Local news station KSL TV reports that as many as 1,200 people logged in, so many that the judge had a hard time entering the virtual room. 


TikTok’s true crime community is known for its quick reaction to breaking news, and Franke and Hildebrandt’s case is no different. But the response to the ongoing case is reminiscent of how the community has skewed other ongoing proceedings — and turned people’s lives into content. Even without misinformation, many of the videos detailing Franke’s crime often center her minor children by name, envisioning in detail how they might feel. Since Franke’s arrest, it’s even become popular for people to make  TikTok edits by placing 8 Passengers clips with sad songs like “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” by John Lennon, or “My Future” by Billie Eilish. 

Under Utah Law, Franke and Hildebrandt face up to 15 years in prison and a $10,000 fine for each of their six counts of child abuse. But as their cases continue, the interest in the specifics of Franke’s and Hildebrandt’s cases could easily tip from fascination into active harm — especially in the lives of Franke and Hildebrandt’s children. According to the courts, police, and those closest to Franke, the kids are victims. On Tiktok, they’ve become entertainment.