US

High School Issues Statement After Buzzfeed Targets 14-Year-Old Girl

By Zachary Stieber

A California high school issued a statement on May 17 after the Buzzfeed website published an article targeting a 14-year-old girl who makes YouTube videos.

Going by the name “Soph,” the girl regularly uploads videos to her YouTube channel mocking certain aspects of culture, such as one video in which she dresses in the full-body covering worn by some Muslim women and describes life as if she lives in a repressive Middle Eastern country under Sharia law.

“Soph” has over 800,000 followers and describes her videos (which include profanity) as comedy, a sentiment many of her followers agree with.

Joe Bernstein, one of a growing number of reporters who have veered into activism, wrote the story and said he wanted YouTube to remove videos from the “indoctrinated” minor he described as “a cherubic white girl.”

The logo of news website BuzzFeed is seen on a computer screen in Wash., on March 25, 2014. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

After the publication of the story, San Francisco Bay Area broadcaster KRON reported that “Soph” attends Redwood High School and that the school’s principal David Sondheim sent a note to students and parents on the night of May 16 regarding the girl.

“I want to assure all of our students and parents that we are aware of the situation and we are working with local law enforcement to ensure the safety of all students and staff. To those of you who have written or called, thank you for sharing your concerns with me,” he said.

It wasn’t clear if the school had received specific threats after the publication of the piece. The full letter was not released to the public. Neither KRON nor Buzzfeed identified the minor.

Bernstein, the Buzzfeed employee, admitted the 14-year-old “is a child” but said he felt he had to write the article targeting her even after she and her father didn’t respond to requests for comment.

“I think it’s imperative that people understand exactly what is being enabled on YouTube. This is shocking and I think the people outside our bubble, especially those who work in SV, need to see it,” he said on Twitter, defending himself against critics. In another missive, he claimed that “there is a moral crisis on YouTube.”

“She’s not your trophy kill,” a Twitter user wrote. “The fall out will get her removed from school, her parents will lose their jobs, she may end up institutionalized. Youtube will carry on. Corps are not people and can’t be held responsible.”

Bernstein has in the past come under fire for posting racist missives on Twitter, including one in which he wrote: “Kill a straight white man on your way to work tomorrow.”

Jonathan Krohn, a freelance writer who was mentioned in the piece, was among those hitting Bernstein for targeting a minor girl with no original reporting inside the article.

“Stepping away from his off-handed remarks on me, the entire article is full of quotes from this child’s YouTube channel. There is no investigation into her, her background, the people around her—nothing of journalistic interest. The thesis: ‘I found a Nazi child! SHOCKING!'” he wrote.

“Not only is there nothing newsworthy about @Bernstein’s approach, but it serves to validate many reader’s impressions that reporting on extremists, radicals, etc. is of little value other than to build the radical’s audience. What new content is in this article? Who had not heard of Soph’s videos before this point? If anything it makes the inquisitive more interest in watching the source material. What news value does this story hold?”

“There are adult ‘journalists’ who hunt down kids on YouTube to report for wrong [think]. (Which in this case is biting social commentary and funnier than anything on network TV),” added social commentator and podcast host Dave Rubin. “Fine work, Buzzfeed.”