A YouTuber with over a million subscribers is receiving backlash online after she filmed a "prank" video where she went to a Texas Walmart store, pretended to be a high-level executive, and told employees they were fired.
Lauren Love runs several YouTube channels with her partner, Joel Ashley. Their main account, "Joel and Lauren Tv," has 1.3 million subscribers. They also have personal YouTube channels, as well as a separate account under "the Ashley Family."
Both of them also have large followings on Instagram — Love has more than 283,000 Instagram followers alone — as do accounts they run for their two young kids, Joel Jr. and Camilla.
One of the hallmarks of the couple's main account is the so-called prank video. Some recent "pranks" include "CHEATING IN MY DREAM PRANK" and "EMBARISSING [sic] GIRLFRIEND IN PUBLIC PRANK."
Last month the couple uploaded a prank video entitled, "CEO Firing People Prank IN THE HOOD (GONE WRONG)."
In the video, Love dresses up in business attire and goes to a Walmart in Richmond, Texas. She then walks up to multiple store employees, claims to be in a management position, and pretends to "fire them."
In a clip from the video shared on another channel, Love calls the video a "social experiment" to see their reactions.
"Hopefully it's funny. I dunno if it's going to go wrong or bad," she said.
The full video has been deleted from the account, but a short clip remains. In it, Love tells the employee she is the "CEO of this" and that he is working "too slow."
"I'll have to take your badge and your jacket from you; you're fired," she says. The employee looks confused but complies, dropping his vest to the floor.
This week, one of the employees at the Walmart, Maria Leones, spoke out to two reporters at news stations in Houston.
Leones told Click2Houston she has worked at the Walmart for six years, after moving to the US from the Philippines to be closer to family.
Her job is incredibly important to her family, she said. Her husband is recovering from a heart attack and bypass surgery, and her job is covering their medical insurance and bills.
Leones said that when Love told her she was fired, all she could think about was her husband. In the YouTube video, she begins to cry.
"I felt so powerless at that time," she told KTRK-TV.
Leones said the prank made her feel not only scared but humiliated.
“Really, I was really so crushed. I felt so little, I felt so powerless,” she told the news station. “At that very moment, I felt so little, because back home I had a very good reputation because I’m a professor.”
In the video, Love tells Leones she is joking when Leones begins to cry.
Love and Ashley didn't immediately return a request for comment from BuzzFeed News.
Love, however, told KTRK she "felt so bad" for making Leones cry, adding that she offered the worker $50.
Walmart didn't return a request for comment from BuzzFeed News, but a spokesperson told Click2Houston the prank was "offensive" and "the people responsible are no longer welcome in our stores."
"We’ve taken actions on behalf of our associates, including asking YouTube to remove the video and calling their attention to the bullying nature of this hoax," the spokesperson said. "Our associates work hard every day to serve our customers. They do a fantastic job, deserve better than being subjected to such disrespect, and will continue to have our full support."
Now people online are criticizing Love for the prank, saying she should be banned from YouTube.
Love and Ashley aren't the only YouTubers pulling prank "firings" on YouTube.
A search for the term pulls up many results from multiple channels.
BuzzFeed News has contacted YouTube for comment.