Over the last week, i’ve gotten innumerable emails about lonelygirl15. Folks were wondering if i was behind it or if i knew who was. They wanted to know my opinion, if i thought it was fake.

I did. I thought it was fake but i expected that it was a TV or movie organization. I was kinda curious if it was an ARG but it didn’t look like it. I decided that i should do a proper analysis of the different bits when the news broke: LonelyGirl15 is crafted by a group of filmmakers as an art project. Here’s the letter they wrote to their fans on the forum explaining LonelyGirl15:

To Our Incredible Fans,

Thank you so much for enjoying our show so far. We are amazed by the overwhelmingly positive response to our videos; it has exceeded our wildest expectations. With your help we believe we are witnessing the birth of a new art form. Our intention from the outset has been to tell a story– A story that could only be told using the medium of video blogs and the distribution power of the internet. A story that is interactive and constantly evolving with the audience.

Right now, the biggest mystery of Lonelygirl15 is “who is she?” We think this is an oversimplification. Lonelygirl15 is a reflection of everyone. She is no more real or fictitious than the portions of our personalities that we choose to show (or hide) when we interact with the people around us. Regardless, there are deeper mysteries buried within the plot, dialogue, and background of the Lonelygirl15 videos, and many of our tireless and dedicated fans have unearthed some of these. There are many more to come.

To enhance the community experience of Lonelygirl15, which you have already helped to create, we are in the process of building a website centered around video and interactivity. This website will allow everyone to enjoy the full potential of this new medium. Unfortunately, we aren’t programmers. We are filmmakers. We are working furiously to complete the website, and hope to have it up and running shortly.

So, sit tight. You are the only reason for our success, and we appreciate your devotion. We want you to know that we aren’t a big corporation. We are just like you. A few people who love good stories. We hope that you will join us in the continuing story of Lonelygirl15, and help us usher in an era of interactive storytelling where the line between “fan” and “star” has been removed, and dedicated fans like yourselves are paid for their efforts. This is an incredible time for the creator inside all of us.

Some thoughts

Now that i’ve killed the suspense, let me back up and tell you about what happened. For those who aren’t familiar, videos by LonelyGirl15 started appearing on YouTube over the summer. She’s supposedly a teenager who is homeschooled by religious parents who don’t know she’s creating videos online. Her friend Daniel helps her with the videos and they often talk back and forth across their videos. It’s rather endearing but too good to be true.

As more videos popped up, people started questioning whether this was real or not. Speculation mounted and fake lonelygurls started to appear. People created videos to comment on LonelyGirl15. People flocked to the LonelyGirl15 forum to discuss. Problem is the LonelyGirl15 domain was registered before the videos started appearing. People started tracking down more and more clues, trying to hone in on what it was, who was behind it. Suspicion mounted. In classic fan style, people dove right down and tore apart all of the data. Quite a few thought that this was an ARG, Jane McGonigal style, but she denied involvement on NPR. Others thought it was an advert or some marketing campaign.

The clues people dug up were fascinating. Personally, i was intrigued by “Bree’s” MySpace profile. I knew it was fake but i didn’t know if the YouTube LonelyGirl15 made the MySpace profile LonelyGurl15. Why did i know it was fake? Well, i read too many teenage MySpaces. Not sure i should give away clues as to how to create a real-looking fake MySpace profile. ::wink::

Then press started covering it. Hands down, The New York Times had the best coverage. I can’t help but wonder if the NYTimes knew the truth because they are certainly using the same language: “Hey There, Lonelygirl – One cute teen’s online diary is probably a hoax. It’s also the birth of a new art form.” If so, go Adam for good reporting!

I like the idea that it is an art form but i also think it’s part of what Henry Jenkins calls Convergence Culture. Regardless, it’s super cool that people are using new media to create narratives. They are telling their story, truth or fiction. Of course, this makes many people very uncomfortable. They want blogs and YouTube and MySpace to be Real with a capital R. Or they want it to be complete play. Yet, what’s happening is both and neither. People are certainly playing but even those who are creating “reality” are still engaged in an act of performance. They are writing themselves into being for others to interpret and the digital bodies that emerge often confound those who are doing the interpretation. In many ways, this reminds me of the Fakester drama during the height of Friendster. As one of the instigators behind the Fakester manifesto explained, “none of this is real.” I won’t get all existential on you so we’ll leave it at that.

In many ways, i have to admit that i’m sad that the truth is out. I was really enjoying the suspicion. Far more than any episode of Lost or reality TV show. I was enjoying not knowing who was behind it and spending hours speculating and trying to find hints. I was enjoying watching a community of people talk endlessly about what they thought might be going on. Sure, the videos were quite endearing (although the ending of Poor Pluto disturbed the hell out of me) but do i just want to watch the videos by themselves? I’m not sure. I think i liked them for the mystery.

Regardless, i absolutely love the way people are using all of these new social technologies to create cultural experiments. To me, this signifies the importance of social media.

Update: The LATimes is reporting that emails concerning the site come from the Creative Artists Agency (CAA), a talent agency in Beverly Hills. (Perhaps i wasn’t as off as i thought?)

Update (9/13): The NYTimes has the full story. Bree is Jessica Rose, a 20-ish film student. LG15 is a 4-person production meant to create intrigue.

Update (9/16): For anyone who is interested in this topic, i’d suggest checking out Henry Jenkins’ entry on astroturf, humbugs, and Lonely Girl and Jane McGonigal’s entry on not fetishizing participation.

September 13, 2006
The Lonelygirl That Really Wasn’t

A nearly four-month-old Internet drama in which the cryptic video musings of a fresh-faced teenager became the obsession of millions of devotees – themselves divided over the very authenticity of the videos, or who was behind them or why – appears to be in its final act.

The woman who plays Lonelygirl15 on the video-sharing site YouTube.com has been identified as Jessica Rose, a 20-ish resident of New Zealand and Los Angeles and a graduate of the New York Film Academy. And the whole project appears to be the early serialized version of what eventually will become a movie.

Matt Foremski, the 18-year-old son of Tom Foremski, a reporter for the blog Silicon Valley Watcher, was the first to disinter a trove of photographs of the familiar-looking actress, who portrayed the character named Bree in the videos. The episodes suggested Bree was the home-schooled daughter of strictly religious parents who was able to find the time to upload video blogs of her innermost thoughts.

The discovery and the swift and subsequent revelation of other details surrounding the perpetrators of the videos and the fake fan site that accompanied it are bringing to an end one of the Internet’s more elaborately constructed mysteries. The fans’ disbelief in Lonelygirl15 was not willingly suspended, but rather teased and toyed with. Whether they will embrace the project as a new narrative form, condemn it or simply walk away remains to be seen.

The masterminds of the Lonelygirl15 videos are Ramesh Flinders, a screenwriter and filmmaker from Marin County, Calif., and Miles Beckett, a doctor turned filmmaker. The high quality of the videos caused many users to suspect a script and production crew, but Bree’s bedroom scenes were shot in Mr. Flinders’s home, in his actual bedroom, typically using nothing more than a Logitech QuickCam, a Web camera that retails for about $150.

Together with Grant Steinfeld, a software engineer in San Francisco, Mr. Flinders contrived to produce and distribute the videos to pique maximum curiosity about them.

The photographs of the actress, which made it clear that Ms. Rose has been playing Bree in the videos, were cached on Google.

“We were all under N.D.A.’s” Mr. Steinfeld said, referring to non-disclosure agreements the cast – and their friends – were asked to sign to preserve the mystery of Lonelygirl15. “They had a lawyer involved,” he said. “My first impression was like, wow, can this be legitimate? Is this ethical? I was very concerned about that in the beginning.”

But after he came to understand the project, Mr. Steinfeld said, he came to believe that something truly novel was at hand. “They were like the new Marshall McLuhan.”

Mr. Flinders and Mr. Beckett obscured their location by sending e-mail messages as Bree from various Internet computer addresses, including the address of Creative Artists Agency, the Beverly Hills talent agency where the team is now represented. Amanda Solomon Goodfried, an assistant at the agency, is believed to have helped Mr. Flinders and Mr. Beckett conceal their identities. Moreover, Ms. Goodfried’s father-in-law, Kenneth Goodfried, a lawyer in Encino, filed to trademark “Lonelygirl15” in August.

The story of how Mr. Flinders, Mr. Beckett and Ms. Rose were discovered in spite of their efforts to hide, and prolong the mystery, sheds light on the nature of online wiki-style investigations and manhunts. When Mr. Steinfeld’s dummy site, which had been set up before the first Lonelygirl15 video was even posted, struck users as suspicious and unsupervised – Mr. Steinfeld says he grew tired of running it, and dropped out of the project – fans set up their own site devoted to Lonelygirl15, which soon attracted more than a thousand members.

Both sites drew contributions from novelists, journalists, academics, day traders, lawyers, bloggers, filmmakers, video game designers, students, housewives, bored youngsters and experts on religion and botany. In the cacophony of conjecture, analysis, close-readings, jokes, insults, and distractions, good information sometimes surfaced.

Last month, a Lonelygirl15 fan discovered and posted a trademark application by Mr. Goodfried, which seemed to prove that the videos, which presented themselves as nothing but a video diary, were at least in part a commercial venture. Then, last week, three tech-savvy fans, working together, set up a sting on the e-mail being used by “Bree”; the operation revealed to them the I.P. address of Creative Artists Agency.

On the strength of this information, Mr. Foremski was confident he could find some trace of Bree on the Internet. He was sure that any participant in a semiprofessional production like Lonelygirl15 would have posted pictures somewhere. Sure enough, they had.

Mr. Steinfeld, on learning that Mr. Flinders and Mr. Beckett had been found out, offered his photographs of Ms. Rose as proof of his involvement in the Lonelygirl15 videos. He had been hired to take the pictures on the set at the start of shooting.

The series, which Mr. Flinders and Mr. Beckett plan to continue on a site overseen by them, may play differently with fans now that they know for sure that Bree is an actress. Part of the appeal of the series was that the serious-minded, literate Bree offered an unbeatable fantasy: a beautiful girl who techy guys had something in common with.

On learning that Ms. Rose was an actress whose interests, unlike the scientific and religious issues that fascinated Bree, ran to parties and posing, one fan wrote, “Very cute, but she’s really not into Feynmann and Jared Diamond! (I’m heart-broken …But a wonderful actress, had me fooled into thinking she was a geek like me.)”

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60 thoughts on “lonelygirl15

  1. Mr Angry

    I hope it really is an independent production trying out something new. While it was obvious that it was a fake inasmuch as it wasn’t the real video diary of a teenage girl (life just doesn’t have such clear story arcs) I didn’t think it was likely to be from a major studio or advertiser.

    I was waiting for the revelation of who was behind it because I wanted to know what they were going to do with it. I don’t see how it could have been turned into a product without spawning a massive backlash. If they really are indie film makers I hope they spawn a fat deal to keep exploring the medium.

  2. grog

    i’m actually pretty pissed off by this. i wasn’t following enough to know if it was real or fake and just kind of assumed that this was the real deal. i liked her, thought the pieces were cute, and enjoyed what i thought was an honest account of her life. but it was all fake; it was a trick. so it was film makers and not pepsi – that doesn’t make a difference to me. i don’t like being fooled.

  3. marc

    Lots of breaking news since Danah’s excellent post.

    Basically, the confession came out just as the LAT was outing Hollywood’s CAA as being behind it. A small group of folks tracked the IP address of the people answering her email. Richard of this front-of-the-LAT-entertainment-section article: http://tinyurl.com/m3lwd
    was in communication with them and a bunch of other through this forum:
    as was Virginia Heffernan of the NYT articles Danah mentioned.

    The sight is now down, but it’s not clear if CAA took ot down to ride out the storm or if the boingboing link is overloading their servers. There were a bunch of odd DB errors and the like before it came down.

    That’s all the news I have for now.
    Still trying to sort it all out myself.

  4. runtime error

    Following this since it’s beginning it seems to me that Lonelygirl was always as interesting for her mystery as for her narative. Real or not the suspense keeps people coming back. I’m not unhappy about any exposure there’s still so much similar discussion out there, like the controversy over nerdkiller proflie which I think is real, but alot of people think it’s a fake I just think he’s like that. We’ll see i guess, maybe a similar project. Entertaining stuff all of it.

  5. Abu H Mallick

    Hey anyone remembers William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition? Whoever the ‘artists’, they are just ripping off Gibson’s idea from the novel. And I am surprised that neither Boyd nor the comments make mention of it. Ignorance, or deliberate holding back of information, Ms Boyd?

  6. Bertil

    I just watched one episode, definitely fell for it, and looked away—still not confortable with looking in a teenageer’s room without her express permission. As an artform, it certainly is close to the first epistolic novels.

    Funny to see how no technology never allows the “bigones” to hide.

  7. Jane MCGonigal

    I’d hardly say that this project was ripping off Gibson’s Pattern Recognition. For starters, Pattern Recongition was drawing largely on existing alternate reality game culture in describing the film strip mystery. Gibson didn’t invent a fictional entertainment form that Lonelygirl brought to life– Gibson was writing about and from interviews I’ve read directly inspired by the real-world emerging entertainment forms, like the ARG phenomenon. Indeed, the straightforward narrative videos of lonelygirl bear little in common with the completely deconstructed and inscrutable Pattern Recognition blips and stills. So it seems of little use to say that lonelygirl is derived largely from Gibson’s concept, when it clearly has a very different aesthetic and moreover is definitely bubbling up out of a larger, immersive, distributed storytelling culture that goes far beyond and deeper than Gibson’s fictive game.

  8. Chuck

    Yeah, I’ve been fascintaed by the LG15 saga the last few days. I sort of wish the writers hadn’t tipped their hands so quickly–I think they could have taken the story much further before revealing that they were behind the curtain.

    The whole captivity narrative subtext (virginal, blonde, homeschooled teen girl imprisoned by her mysteriously/obscurely religious parents) disturbs me a little, and like you I was especially disturbed by the end of “Poor Pluto,” but I’ve been fascinated by the whole thing, including the heartfelt video responses, the hoaxbuster videos, etc. Really cool stuff.

  9. fangless

    I watched one video of that crap and it was so bad it made me want to rage on all the idiots that love it.

    The fans are just a bunch of under-sexed men who want to make her ‘not so lonely’… awww… get a life.

  10. Liz Ditz

    I want to draw another “fakester” blog to your attention. “Medical Pathetical” was purportedly the blog of an Irishwoman who had immigrated to the US and was in her first year of pediatrics residency. (The faux blog has since been taken down, and is not found on the Wayback Machine.)

    She wrote a harrowing account of a rape, and Moof responded.


    More on the issue of faux bloggers (Fauxgers?)at:



  11. rick rey

    I didn’t follow her videos, but I did watch one or two of them along the way (because they were so prominently featured on the site). Yes, it did reek of hoax, but what is disappointing to me is the intended viewerbase is really too young to make educated decisions about what’s real and what’s scripted. Also I think there’s a certain amount of time allowed for carrying on with a prank — they exceeded it in my opinion.

  12. adria

    I think what makes reality format real is not whether it is “Real” or not, it is how it relates to us and reminds us of reality. Many of the reality shows out there today are contrived, ridulous situations involving real people–non actors– (although how thick is the line between an actor and a “real person” anyway?) I think Bree and Daniel’s story is a fascinating and engaging new reality format, and judging by their success, I expect (and hope) to see a lot more of it on the Tubes.

    As far as the mystery being shattered and losing interest…I think once people get over “being tricked” and used to the idea of this media format, they will get just as excited about the drama as any other non-real show. I plan to keep watching Lonelygirl15, and I’m excited to see what its genius creators have in store for us.

  13. Jeff Finley

    I had noticed the LG15 saga beginning to unfold the past week or so. And it’s very interesting to me. The whole concept of tricking all your fans is a dangerous one. And it’s for sure a letdown when you realize you’ve been duped.

    Sure this could spawn a new “art” form, but the scary part is, the “under-sexed” teens totally fell for this “prank.” Young kids were making video responses that were probably real and they thought they were offering real advice.

    The idea of the “new art form” should be complete and absolute REALISM. Why bother scripting or faking it? Couldn’t this have been done WAY better by actually listening to fans and video responses and catering to their questions and desires? Making the entire art form interactive?

    I mean, take a REAL lonely girl and put her in front of a webcam. No actors. No scripts or expectations.

    I could see someone doing it, and in fact, it’s probably already been done. But how in the world do the creators get it in front of 15 million people like the LG15 crew?

    Thousands of videos are posted every day on YouTube and I am sure there are plenty that are experimenting with this new “art form.” Yet how will the masses ever see it without a little “Hollywood Help” so to speak.

    If you want to make a new art form, then drop the notion of “trying” to create a new art form. Just document reality instead of inventing it.

  14. omg wtf LOL

    OMGWTF a bunch of 30 year old bachelors want to fap to this girl in her room?
    i hardly buy the art form conversations, making allusions to earlier film artists…

  15. mylosh

    who cares if she’s fake, who cares if laguna or the hills is fake, its great entertainment, plus all the message board posts and articles on lonelygirl15 have kept me awake at work, its sweet

    and if this is going to be like American Virgin where there’s pay per view thing, well oct 12/06 is a thursday and I believe the OC on thursday nights, bad time slot

    nice blog btw

    go trojans, John David Booty rawks!

    oh ya and the pluto end was creepy , even by my standards and thats pad

  16. Trixie

    Lonelygirl15 is BRILLIANT! You are completely deconstructing the crazy, inbred world of blogging. This is the living proof that you have GOT to take everything out there in cyberspace with at least one grain of salt. Good work! I love stuff like this!

  17. abu

    JaneMCGonigal The aesthetics may be different but the fundamental structure of linked anonymous video clips appearing on the net is EXACTLY as recounted in PR. Loading the structure with a subtly erotic name and content takes little imagination for anyone remotely familiar with a particular aspect of internet culture. I call that a ripoff.

  18. jeri

    I still want to know what Dad said to Daniel.
    “Daniel, don’t make me come in there and ask the tuff questions!” “What’d he say?” . Lock him out.

  19. Rose

    I heard that this story was a hoax a few days ago. Very sad and certainly believable as on the internet you can be anyone and I think we all need to remember that especially children.

  20. Randy

    Well hell… come on people lighten up.. Whether its real or not, who cares… this is great television or um Monitorvision. And no matter what this girl is very very talented, if its an act, shes a hell of an actress, if its not then she has one hell of a look and personality. I dont care for the boyfriend/actor he bores me and seems controlling. So no matter what, this is really fun stuff.. And we are all witnessing a new media, hell after ive played with YOUTUBE these last few weeks, im almost ready to get rid of my cable service… 130.00 per month with less entertainment…

    Sherman Oaks, Ca

  21. Kat

    A website centered around video and interactivity? The full potential of this new medium? This whole lonelygirl thing has got me spooked…I’m just putting the pieces together that I’ve been hearing about from that photo and birthday thing of Aleister Crowley in the videos…it’s really creeping me out…so I’m basically just watching something totally fake that writers and film makers made up that is supposed to reflect my own life or someone else’s? I’ve watched up to the latest video, and after reading all these things about the site, the videos, and the characters in the videos, I’m seeing them differently than I did before..and not in a good way….by the way, was anybody else creeped out by that letter? I surely was and still am..

  22. roxy

    yup..agree with the author..i think i watch lonelygirl15 for the mystery..but then when the truth comes out…i feel like i was lied inside out!!

  23. ERK

    I think this proyect is very interesting but sometimes the art become only a way to make money just like the plastic pop singers in the media nowadays.
    If you get some kind of payment from the page to do this all of you are only people with a great lack of imagination to get some money by smoother ways.
    If you don’t get any money and do it because of the pleasure then you’ll don’t even care what i’m just telling. So… think the art has to be a liberation of soul and no a liberation of starvation.

  24. Vanessa


    I went to school with jessica in Mount Maunganui (NEW ZEALAND) shes an awesome girl! with a heck of a lot to offer!

  25. Miles

    Jessica Rose, actress and New York Film Academy Graduate. That just doesn’t have the samy mystical sound to it than the captive girl of YouTube.

    I am glad that there is a new art form being born, but there is an element of deception here, that i find unforgivable. Fool Me once, shame on you. I would rather say, Fool me once and you’ll never make any money from your film making.

    I think it would be really hard for Jessica Rose to now try to make her way into a real acting career, because her start was in a fake career. It’s not a respectful way to become an actor. Which I believe is a matter of craft more than making the temporary splash.

    I just hope now that she has been found out, she does like most reality tv stars and dissapears.

    ahhh, well, it was good while it lasted.

  26. Sparki

    I find it interesting that people are upset that the LG15 thing was staged. Have we become so bent on voyeurism thanks to “Reality Television” that just being presented with fiction ticks us off?

    Honestly, folks, you really can’t trust anything you see on YouTube to be 100% real, even the homemade videos that people are putting up. If they’re filming it and want to share it with the world, there is SOMEthing staged about it, just like Survivor or whatever reality shows are out there now have staged elements.

    Video is an entertainment medium first and foremost. Even the news programs are produced to entertain people to a certain extent. So why the heck are people surprised that filmmakers would use an on-line video sharing site as a means of telling their fictional stories?

    You either like the Star Wars series or you don’t. You either like the TV show “24” or you don’t. You either like the LG15 stuff or you don’t. But there is no need to feel like somebody was cheating you by creating a fictional melodrama and posting it where you could watch for free.

  27. Matt Norwood

    I’d hardly say that this project was ripping off Gibson’s Pattern Recognition.

    I think that Mcgonigal – and possibly the earlier poster too – is overlooking the key parallel to the novel. I agree with McGonigal that Gibson and the LG15 crew are drawing on a common history of ARGs, but the real LG15 parallel in the novel is not the viral video at the story’s heart, but the synthetic sex-bot cooked up by the investigators to coax information out of one of their leads.

    I’ve posted on this here.

  28. Sam Rose

    One thing that I’ve been noticing over the past year is that more and more venture capitalists and investors are thinking about and looking for people knowledgeable about ways to “start a fire” online. People who can create successful viral campaigns. If you are able to display talent in startign a buzz online in creative ways, like the lonelygirl15 “art experiment”, you’ll have investors flocking to your projects.

    The ability to publicize your idea and get people interested in it is what is seperating different “web 2.0” start up projects from the pack.

    Notice that the people who made these films wrote:

    “We hope that you will join us in the continuing story of Lonelygirl15, and help us usher in an era of interactive storytelling where the line between “fan” and “star” has been removed, and dedicated fans like yourselves are paid for their efforts.”

    So, this is likely someone’s lead-up to a “crowdsourcing”-oriented business model, IMO. First tey had to prove they could grab people’s attention, and create a cross-ver “buzz” into traditional media, and then they are going to launch their Calacanis-inspired “pay the audience” project.

    Sorry to be negative. I also enjoy watching the dynamics of all of this. Yet, at the same time, it makes you feel kind of like a dog chasign your own tail, in a way. Especially if it really is just a lead up to a “crowdsourcing” scheme of some type.

  29. Adi

    lonelygirl15 is a fictional video log that came to international attention via YouTube, a popular video sharing website. The central character is a YouTube user of the same name, although she is commonly known as Bree. This article refers to both the character and the series interchangeably.

    The character achieved massive popularity with her series of videos, which acquired over 15 million cumulative views. But after viewers grew suspicious (see Initial speculation), researchers exposed lonelygirl15 as a fictitious character played by New Zealand actress Jessica Rose[1][2]. An interview with the New York Times then revealed the series creators, Ramesh Flinders, a screenwriter and film-maker from Marin County, California, and Miles Beckett, a surgical residency dropout-turned-film-maker.[3]

    The series is still running, with new videos appearing at least once a week. The first video was posted June 16, 2006.

    Plus de photos chez Sabamba Tres simpas.

  30. LonelyGirl15 Hired By United Nations

    At first, many would believe the collaboration between LonelyGirl15 and the United Nations is a brillant idea. I too believe the move by the United Nations is a bold effort to raise awareness for the cause. However, I believe that the United Nations does not fully understand the reasoning behind online social video sharing websites such as YouTube. Internet fans are quite sophisticated and it suprised the world when LonelyGirl15 dupped millions of her fans when revealing that her diaries and back story were nothing but a fraud for a bigger cause (acting career). I am a little disappointed with the United Nations move as the video is cute but there is no real heart.

    The entire anti-poverty video produced by LonelyGirl15 also brings to mind the millions of former fans who will have totally shut their minds to any future works of the online star because she literally defrauded us all.

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