How BuzzFeed Became the Outlet That Made the Stanford Rape Victim’s Letter Go Viral

For every person who shared it, 12 more saw it

BuzzFeed has another viral hit on its hands, and it has nothing to do with Disney princesses, exploding watermelons or the color of a certain dress.

On Friday afternoon, BuzzFeed posted a story titled "Here Is The Powerful Letter The Stanford Victim Read Aloud To Her Attacker." The post featured a short intro and then the entire 7,200-word letter the victim read aloud in court.

Earlier this year, 20-year-old former Stanford student Brock Turner was convicted on three counts of sexual assault after being discovered lying on top the unconscious, half-naked woman behind a dumpster in January 2015. Last Thursday, the college swimmer was sentenced to six months in county jail and probation. The maximum penalty was 14 years.

After his sentencing, Turner's victim addressed him directly, reading the letter in which she described the "severe impact" the assault had on her.

BuzzFeed obtained the victim's harrowing statement through filmmaker Amy Ziering, producer of the documentary The Hunting Ground, which is about campus rape culture. Ziering had been following the Stanford case closely.

Ziering told Adweek that Michele Landis Dauber, a Stanford law professor who was in attendance at the sentencing and who is now leading a campaign to recall the judge, texted Ziering about the letter and put her in touch with its author. The victim in the case told Ziering she'd be okay with the letter being published as long as her anonymity was protected.

Ziering then asked her daughter which media outlet would be the best one to publish it. "I gave her my short list, and said, 'I love Katie Baker's work at BuzzFeed,'" Ziering said. "She was like, 'BuzzFeed, hands down.' That's the right demographic and people." 

Ziering reached out to Baker Thursday night. Baker responded Friday morning after she'd read the letter. Ziering put the author in touch with Baker, and the story was posted around 4 p.m. on Friday.

The post went viral almost immediately. With more than 11 million views in four days, it has already passed last summer's vapid story about what Disney princesses would look like in real life. (With 33 million views, viral sensation The Dress remains BuzzFeed's biggest story.)

As you can see in the chart below, which BuzzFeed provided to Adweek, the story got the majority of views from social word of mouth—for every person who shared it, 12 more people saw it.

    

The Santa Clara County District Attorney's office had released the entire statement Thursday night. It was first picked up by local site Palo Alto Online, which ran it Friday morning, roughly four hours before BuzzFeed's post.

The letter has garnered universal acclaim, not just for the bravery shown by the author, but for continuing to shine a light on campus rape culture and the privilege afforded to many college athletes. "I love that it's brought attention and interest in this issue in a way that nothing could have in quite the same way," said Ziering.

Ashleigh Banfield, host of CNN's Legal View, dedicated the majority of her show Monday to the case, reading nearly the entire letter on the broadcast.