Lonelygirl15: How one mysterious Youtuber changed the Internet

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In the days when YouTube was still mostly known for its collection of cat videos, there was a fast growing community of confessional video bloggers. They would details their lives in grainy videos. One of these popular Youtubers was Bree, with the username LonelyGirl15. She was a cute self-described dork with great eyebrows. And she wasn’t real. But no one knew that.

In 2006, Jessica Lee Rose and Abu Taleb gave auditions for what they thought were movie roles. But they were actually auditioning for the roles of YouTube vlogger Bree aka LonelyGirl15 and her best friend Daniel, respectively. The idea to start a YouTube web series was of Miles Beckett and Mesh Flinders, with this plot: the protagonist, Bree, is a homeschooled 16-year-old. She spends her time on the internet, doing homework or hanging out with the only friend she has, Daniel. She is a cute, seemingly happy-go-lucky teenager, who likes science and history … except her parents are part of some strange religion, possibly a cult.

Rose and Abu Taleb were initially hesitant to do the roles because they had both moved to LA for real acting jobs. But they decided to give it a try. The first few videos of LonelyGirl 15 didn’t even feature Bree/Rose. They were mostly video replies to YouTube’s biggest stars. Beckett and Flinders worked on catching the audience’s attention as LonelyGirl15 posted more and more.

Then, Bree was introduced to the YouTube world.

Flinder’s room featured as Bree’s bedroom. Eventually, Daniel was also introduced. People took a liking to Bree. She was cute, funny and charming. Behind the scene, the team would reply to every single comment on the videos in order to boost their profile and add more views. Becket also figured out an algorithm that would allow them to choose their freeze frame, adding more views. Bree was becoming immensely popular. The team had to scrap their initial plan of making an independent film as it couldn’t compete with the kind of attention they were getting on YouTube.

But as Bree’s popularity increased, so did the suspicions. Theories about LonelyGirl15 being a hoax spread on lonelygirl15.com’s forum. Three of the forum’s members investigated proof that Lonelygirl15 was fake. But no one had any concrete proof. It was Mathew Foremski, son of journalist Tom Foremski, who found evidence that linked Rose to Bree.

The team behind Lonelygirl15 mathematically figured out exactly how to get the best preview image for their videos. Photograph: YouTube/Lonelygirl15 via Guardian
The team behind Lonelygirl15 mathematically figured out exactly how to get the best preview image for their videos. Photograph: YouTube/Lonelygirl15 via Guardian

It was time for LonelyGirl15 to come clean. The team held a press conference with everyone worried about a negative reaction. But after the reveal, the show ran for two years. The series delved into alternate reality gaming and there was also a UK spin-off and a sequel called Lonelygirl15: the Resistance. LonelyGirl15 also became the first YouTube series to feature product placement. LonelyGirl15 had changed the world of vlogging.

Rose now lives in Australia and still acts while Abu Taleb produces his own videos. The entire team of LonelyGirl15 has fond memories of the experience but agree that now on YouTube no one would be able to get away with this as people are more skeptical.

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