Tiffany Smith is the mother of 15-year-old YouTube star Piper Rockelle, who has more than 10 million subscribers on her channel. In the complaint, the teen members of the “Piper Squad” alleged they suffered from “emotional, verbal, physical, and at times, sexual abuse” while creating content for Rockelle’s YouTube channel between 2017 and 2020.
The lawsuit was filed in January 2022 in the Los Angeles County Superior Court. While media outlets initially reported that the jury trial will take place on Monday 17 April, the trial is tentatively scheduled for November 2023.
In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs claim they weren’t compensated for the use of their names, images, and likenesses in Rockelle’s content. The 147-page complaint also names Smith’s boyfriend, Hunter Hill, as the primary director and editor of Rockelle’s content. The 11 teenagers are each asking for roughly $2m in damages from Smith and Hill, totaling at least $22m.
Tiffany Smith was described as a “mean-spirited control freak” who allegedy made “wildly offensive and sexually explicit comments” about children’s genitalia, according to the lawsuit. The complaint details one moment in which she allegedly asked the teens “whether they have had sex before” and “encouraging plaintiffs to try oral sex.”
Lawyers claim Smith allegedly touched the children on their legs, thighs, and buttocks, while one plaintiff said Smith mailed several of Rockelle’s bras and underwear to “an unknown individual” who liked to “smell this stuff.”
The plaintiffs were asked to stage romantic “crushes” on each other for the purpose of Rockelle’s video content, including one video from two years ago in which several children participated in a “last to stop kissing” game. They were allegedly given “very sexually explicit instructions” during filming, such as “aggressively” kissing each other and wearing “sexually revealing clothing”.
According to the lawsuit, nine of the plaintiffs alleged that Smith and Hill “sabotaged” their YouTube channels after they left the “Squad” by falsely flagging their content as inappropriate, using bots to drive down their subscriptions, and embedding their videos on pornographic websites.
After the complaint was filed in January 2022, Tiffany Smith countersued in July for $30m and alleged the plaintiffs’ mothers of making false sexual abuse allegations to extort her. She later dropped the suit and lawyers representing the plaintiffs called her accusations against the mothers “baseless,” per NBC News.
In 2021, YouTube took down three video thumbnails from then 14-year-old Rockelle’s channel for violating its child safety policy. The thumbnails showed Rockelle holding a towel around herself, while the others featured Rockelle and another girl dressed in bikinis. The backlash surrounding the videos also gained the attention of singer P!nk, who tweeted her reaction to the thumbnail photos.
“How many kids like Piper Rockelle are being exploited by their parents?” she tweeted at the time. “And at what point do the rest of us say…‘this isn’t okay for a 13 yr old to be posing in a bikini whilst her MOTHER takes the photo?!?!’”
In response, Piper Rockelle and Tiffany Smith refuted the singer’s accusations in a statement to Insider. “There’s nothing wrong with being in a bikini,” Rockelle said in the statement emailed by a representative. “Pics of teenagers in bikinis having fun are not sexual. They’re only sexual if you view us that way.”
Meanwhile, Smith said in an emailed statement that she wanted to “protect” and support her daughter. “I’m just a mom like any other who loves her daughter and would do anything for her,” Smith said.
The following year, the video-sharing platform de-monetised Rockelle’s content amidst the ongoing lawsuit, making her YouTube channel unable to receive revenue from ads. However, the 15-year-old is still making money through selling merchandise and her current US tour, “The Piper Tour”.
Ashley Anne Rock-Smith is the mother of two plaintiffs named in the lawsuit, who are also Rockelle’s cousins. Speaking to NBC News ahead of the trial, Rock-Smith said her 13-year-old and 10-year old daughters were featured in 94 videos on Rockelle’s channel.
“I just want peace back with my kids,” she said. “I want all predators who hurt young kids to be brought to justice. I also hope we move the needle on these platforms that are allowing this.”
Steevy Areeco, the mother of another plaintiff, told the outlet: “As children, they don’t understand it, sometimes it goes over their heads. But now they’re older and they’re starting to understand the trauma that was caused, the things that were said to them, these fake crushes.”
Areeco added that Smith wanted “real reactions” from the children and would “force them to live these adult situations they shouldn’t have been put in.”
“We all love YouTube and it’s a great place, but when somebody is using it as a business and pulling other children in, those people should have to uphold a certain standard,” she continued. “We want there to be protections for the children.”
In November 2016, Piper Rockelle rose to YouTube fame at nine years old, after she posted her first video titled “Piper Rockelle creates Fluffy Slime” – which demonstrated how to create “slime” at home. Since then, she’s gained millions of subscribers for “challenge-based” video content with friends and family.
“Discovery so far has revealed a pattern of misconduct and an attempt to coverup the misconduct,” attorney Matthew Sarelson said in a statement to The Independent. “We remain laser focused on justice for our young clients, which we anticipate being a jury verdict for millions of dollars.”
The Independent has contacted Tiffany Smith and Piper Rockelle for comment.