Johna Kay Ramirez moved her kids Liana and Jentzen from Texas to Los Angeles about a decade ago. Then-13-year-old Liana's Hollywood career was gathering steam, and Jentzen, then 5, was along for the ride. Soon his own career took off, and as he entered his tween years, he started expressing an interest in making YouTube content. He went to an audition for a video being filmed by Piper Rockelle, who had 2 million subscribers at the time, and got a part—but so much more: entry into the "Squad," a "kind of self-styled Mickey Mouse Club" with Piper at the center that Johna would come to see as toxic. Her attempts to remove her son from it would destroy their relationship, writes Nile Cappello in a lengthy for the Atavist Magazine.
Cappello's piece goes deep into the world of YouTube kidfluencers, explaining the ins and outs of "ships," orchestrated relationships that are meant to seem real to viewers and fuel videos like "I ignored my girlfriend for 24 hours to see what happens." Piper's videos were handled by her mom, Tiffany Smith, who is now being sued by 11 former Squad members who allege, among other things, that Smith "knowingly produced exploitative content featuring her daughter and other minors" and tried to "sabotage" their careers once they left the Squad. Johna eventually wanted to get Jentzen out, too, following a February 2020 road trip to Las Vegas Tiffany arranged for the Squad; Johna alleges Tiffany wanted the young teens to spend the night in adjoining rooms unsupervised. Things spiraled, so much so that Jentzen, now 16 and with 5 million followers, is trying to have guardianship of him transferred to his sister. (Read the wild full story here.)