There’s been some talk over the past few days about Lonelygirl15, a 16-year-old homeschooled girl called Bree who posts well-shot, entertainingly edited videologs on Youtube with her friend Daniel.
It would appear, however, that all is not what it seems. Some of the later vlogs seem suspiciously staged, and references to her devout – but unspecified – religion in earlier posts culminated in a shot of an altar to Aleister Crowley. A seemingly-innocent fan site actually registered its domain well before Bree started posting to Youtube, which clearly suggests a thought-out marketing campaign. And filmmaker Brian Flemming seems to be putting a little too much thought into the mystery. He has a movie, Danielle, coming out next year, formerly entitled The Beast. Net sleuths have been quick to point out that Bree’s friend Daniel’s Youtube username is DanielBeast.
All of which would appear to point to a clever guerrilla marketing campaign. Bree’s videos became popular well before any of this started to raise suspicions: for the teen demographic who largely uses Youtube they’re fun to watch, often breaking into little dance segments or rap pastiches, and Bree is undoubtedly an attractive girl. Tribute and reply videos were already floating in when she started breaking in references to Crowley and a conflict with her parents surrounding her religion. People were already watching, and now more and more are being drawn in; blogs have been drawn into the campaign, as with Snakes on a Plane around a year ago. It’s likely that as the story continues, the coverage will only intensify, until – as with Snakes – it breaks out into the mainstream media. Whether that’s to promote a film, the talents of the people involved or something else entirely is up in the air.
This raises a question: as community-driven services like Youtube, Myspace et al spring up and attract user mindshare, what’s to stop media companies and those looking to make a name for themselves from gaming these social filters in order to spread their own message, particularly when some sites are having to pay ordinary users to contribute? The answer is nothing, if they do it right. Online, just as in real life, you need to be vigilant that who you’re talking to really is who they say they are.