When the video broke it shook the Internet.
It was an unbelievably horrifying depiction of overt racism with a white man insisting that a black woman move to the back of the bus where she belonged, much to the horror of everyone else on the Brooklyn, N.Y., bus.
In cellphone footage posted online, the white passenger could be heard telling the woman to move, demanding her seat. The woman refused, telling the man that he was being racist. Other passengers chimed in telling him to go sit at the back of the bus.
"See this is why we need Donald Sterling," the man responded, referring to the disgraced Los Angeles Clippers owner who was recorded making racist rants and telling a half-black female friend not to associate with other black people.
Unbelievable as the situation seemed, it was unbelievable for a reason.
It turned out that the video was a prank put together by Zaida Pugh aka Ms. Muffin. It was a hoax that many fell for, including The Root, which found the video posted on another site full of posts from enraged commenters. Pugh's website and YouTube clearly identify her as a regular trickster. But people online fell for it and fell hard, with rage at the blatant display surging quickly.
Why would Pugh pull such elaborate pranks that sometimes have scary overtones and incur deep-rooted reactions?
"It's … like a wake-up call," Pugh tells The Root. "The stuff that happens in society today that we try not to pay too much mind on … like racism or like before, I did a video of AIDS and stuff and being protected … it's stuff that happens like every day and we don't really talk about it much.
"Or we talk about it, but we don't do anything," she adds. "My pranks kind of wake people up and also see how people feel about [an issue] … I want to see how people feel about it and see what they have to say and how do they react to it, and also I'm trying to do something different from most pranksters [and] have some kind of meaning to it."
Of course, Pugh tries to make sure things go smoothly and ensure that no one gets in trouble or is hurt.
"If anybody else does try to interfere, try to fight or anything, I always have actors around trying to prevent that or tell them something. I didn't really want nobody to get up or try to fight or anything," she says, adding that with the bus prank she was more interested in verbal, not physical, reactions.
The actor who played the racist white guy is actually Latino—a man Pugh met in the subway in New York one day when he helped her with the stroller for her son.
Pugh usually bases her videos and pranks on things that catch her interest or are trending.
"In this time, doing a racial video would be the perfect time [with the recent] talk about Donald Sterling and all of that stuff. But it really just comes to my head," she says. "Sometimes I'll probably meet people and they would experience things and I get ideas from that and I just sit there and think: What is a video that I should do about, that no one is really talking about, that's something that we really need to pay attention to?”
Pugh admits she does get a kick out of the reactions to her pranks, especially with people who insist the pranks are real, though she never really tries to hide the fact that they are just jokes.
"It really makes me laugh seeing how people react to it. But I know. This time I actually noticed someone really was p—sed off," she says with a laugh. "I guess he stayed up all night trying to do a video [about the incident] and then I guess he was about to finish editing it, he did some more research and he realized it was a prank. I try not to pay people no mind. This is just something I do. I'm a prankster and I’m just taking it to a different level. Nobody's getting hurt. Nobody ever gets hurt. I get everything sorted out. It's kind of like the show What Would You Do?"
So how did all this get started for Pugh? She says she wanted to do something different and to bring a little extra excitement to her fellow New Yorkers, while doing something she loved.
"I actually was 16 after I had my son and it was very depressing.… [M]y mother was telling me I need to do something with my life, [but] I didn't know what to do," Pugh shares. "I felt like I was nothing, but then I asked myself one day what is it that I can do, what do I like to do, and I've always been into acting."
As so the pranks were born. But things are still hard for the young mother, who just turned 19 last month.
She helps out at her church in Brooklyn and is looking for a job, but it's difficult to care for a small son with no income. She doesn't receive any money for the videos she posts. Her mom helps her out for the most part and she receives child support for her boy. She's looking into taking the test for her high school equivalency diploma so that she can enroll in college.
Pugh describes herself as goofy and silly, though early on she shied away from being her authentic self because she thought others didn't like her goofiness.
"But I was watching Steven Jo … I found it real funny," she says regarding another prankster who posts videos online. "That actually inspired me to do pranks, but I wanted to do something different. I didn't want to go out there, act silly and have no meaning for it."
"I noticed that when I'm on the train, no TV, no nothing, people just looking at one another, and I’m like OK [my pranks] should bring some excitement," she says.
"That's how it started. I wanted to do something different."
Breanna Edwards is a newswriter at The Root. Follow her on Twitter.