YouTubers behind the channel “Joel and Lauren TV” have received backlash for reducing a Walmart employee to tears after pretending to “fire” her in a video.
Lauren Love and her partner, Joel Ashley, whose channel has over 1.3 million subscribers, are known for posting “prank” videos. The content creators have three other channels with a combined following of over 500,000, CBS News reports.
While the style of many of their content is to generate controversy, the prank they played on employee Maria Leones in the clip published on April 23 received the most buzz outside their usual audience.
In the video, Love posed as a Walmart executive at a local Walmart in Richmond, Texas and walked around the store telling employees they were fired.
Titled “CEO Firing People Prank IN THE HOOD (GONE WRONG),” the video has been taken down after generating criticisms online.
“I’m the CEO of this,” Love can be heard telling an employee. She then told her that she is not in the correct “area” of the store.
“I’m going to have to take your badge and your jacket from you, you’re fired,” she added.
Maria Leones, who has been working at Walmart for six years, simply took off the vest in response. Unable to contain her heartbreak, the employee broke down in tears, Click2Houston reports.
“Really, I was really so crushed, I felt so little, I felt so powerless,” Leones said. “At that very moment, I felt so little.”
It was later revealed that Leones’ husband of 43 years recently had a heart attack and underwent a quadruple bypass. She felt so upset since her job covers his hospital expenses.
Upon seeing her prank victim cry, Love then revealed it’s a prank and pointed to a cameraman.
“I’m sorry, don’t cry. You’re OK. I’m sorry. You’re not fired. You’re doing a really good job,” said Love.
A Walmart spokesperson released a statement to CBS condemning the prank.
“What our associates have experienced in this video is troubling and undeserved,” the spokesperson was quoted as saying. “We take this incident seriously and have taken several actions in response, including reporting the video to YouTube, trespassing the woman in the video, and providing support to our associates. This behavior is unacceptable and we will continue to stand by our associates.”
Since the video’s deletion, netizens have been expressing their anger by commenting on Love’s Instagram account.
“Your actions were disgusting. How is it that you have this huge platform, yet you use it to humiliate people publicly?” wrote an Instagram follower.
“The Walmart prank was extremely insensitive. You should apologize,” another one commented.
Love and Ashley have yet to respond to their critics and address the controversy.