MAN [SINGING]: Look at Bree, she's not lonely. And 15, she might not be. People are pissed at a fake satanist, oh, why, how could you, Bree?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: For those of you who missed it, this summer's Internet obsession was a putative 15-year-old named Bree, aka lonelygirl15, who posted a video diary of her narrow, but deeply felt life on YouTube, that global repository of mostly homemade videos.
Lonelygirl was sweet, a science geek, a possible satanist -- there were hints -- and a great big mystery. Some half a million avid fans tuned in to her video musings, filmed mostly in her bedroom by her pal and potential love interest, Daniel. And viewers weighed in with comments and video responses to her and the community that had formed around her on YouTube.
[YOUTUBE VIDEO CLIP]:
BREE: A lot of you guys were commenting on the hiking video. I mean I was laughing at the fact that everybody was saying that he liked me. And I just asked him, I said, well, do you? And -- he -- he didn't say anything for a really long time, and then he just said that he did.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But soon something happened. The speculation moved from her relationship with Daniel, her repressive parents and her unspecified religion to the very authenticity of Bree herself. And then this week, suddenly, it was all over. Bree was exposed as a 19-year-old acting student by the name of Jessica Rose and lonelygirl as the brainchild of some aspiring filmmakers test driving, they say, a new form of participatory art.
Oh, lonelygirl, we hardly knew ye. And it seems, some of us preferred it that way. Bravesgirl5 venting on YouTube.
BRAVESGIRL5: You know, it just sucks, because there are so many people who made video responses to lonelygirl's videos and you know what, they're gonna feel stupid now because they got caught up in the drama and said everything about Bree was bull [BLEEP]. I don't think she's gonna be half as popular as she was before, because the fans of lonelygirl, they're gonna know, okay, well, this is fake, it doesn't really matter.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Jane McGonigal, a game designer and expert in the field of collaborative play, says that if the public turns against the creators of lonelygirl, they have only themselves to blame, because her creators never gave the public a chance to actively participate in the game that was lonelygirl. Viewers didn't know the rules. In fact, they didn't even know for sure it was a game.
JANE McGONIGAL: You can have a lot more fun if it's just a story, right? If you're not concerned about ruining someone's life, if you're only ruining a character's life, you can be a lot more creative, you can push harder on it. It makes a big difference for audiences to have a kind of transparency where they can see through the frame and understand how far they can take it.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But all viewers could do was post on YouTube. And ultimately, it was more fun talking to each other about Bree, than talking to Bree.
JANE McGONIGAL: The audience decided the primary puzzle was not what will happen next in the story. The real puzzle was who is this woman. And I think a lot of that meta-gaming happened because there weren't more things to do in the formal environment of the lonelygirl world.
If there had been more ways to game her life, we might have see that community's energy be driven towards the experience itself, rather than going outside the boundaries of the experience to rip the mask off the puppet masters.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And rip they did, thanks largely to Matt Foremski, 18-year-old son of Tom Foremski, a former Financial Times reporter turned blogger at siliconvalleywatch.com. Matt linked from Bree's YouTube page to her MySpace page which was locked up, but then took her MySpace user name and plugged it into Google where he searched its cache pages, where he found some photos and, oh, never mind. The point is, he found Jessica Rose and he's glad. But he still doesn't know what to think about lonelygirl.
MATT FORENSKI: I'd like to see what their intent was with the whole campaign, if they were just doing that true experiment for experiment's sake, or they were trying to make a viral marketing campaign and they'll try to monetize it in some way. I'm not a fan of that and I'm sure their user base would be burned by that too.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But if they weren't doing it to make money, you'd be more accepting?
MATT FORENSKI: Yeah, of course. Because it's more authentic.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: More authentically fake?
MATT FORENSKI: Yes! [MUSIC]
MAN [SINGING]: Thank you, Bree, for showing me not to believe all I see. Right from your dorm you made a new artform! But now, goodbye, goodbye to Bree. [FEIGNED CRYING] BOB GARFIELD: That's it for this week's show. On The Media was produced by Megan Ryan, Tony Field, Jamie York and Mike Vuolo, and edited by Brooke. Dylan Keefe is our technical director and Jennifer Munson our engineer. Our webmaster is Amy Pearl.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Katya Rogers is our senior producer and John Keefe, our executive producer. We took that musical clip about Bree from Highly Defective People from YouTube. Bassist composer Ben Allison wrote our theme. This is On the Media from WNYC. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BRAVESGIRL5: Is she real? Is this a big corporation scam? BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield.
BRAVESGIRL5: Oh really? You don't think we figured that out, did ya?