Lonely Girl

If YouTube's Teen Phenomenon is the Real Deal, I Will Remove My Right Kidney on a Live Webcam With My Bare Hands

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This week in my other life -- NPR's On The Media -- we looked at the teenage YouTube phenom "lonelygirl15," who has been posting vlogs on the site for months and building a vast audience of fans and skeptics. My co-host Brooke Gladstone discusses all the intriguing ins and outs of the situation with Virginia Heffernan of The New York Times.

The main question: Is Lonely Girl a genuine, disaffected 15-year-old vlogger with freakishly religious parents who just soooo don't understand? Or is she some sort of poseur?

Answer: b)

You don't have to look at a single one of the thousands of Lonely Girl-obsessed blog and vlog postings to be suspicious here. Just look at one of her videos and you will see the hand of grownups at work.

Not just grownups, but grownups in the employ of an advertising agency. When this all shakes out, you will see Lonely Girl revealed as a singer, an actress, a movie character, a line of clothing or some other commercial pop-culture enterprise.

Whereupon her worldwide legion of fans will turn on her. Because people don't mind being manipulated by advertising (which happens in full view with everybody's eyes wide open to the exercise) but they despise being toyed with by stealth.

There is a term for this: "Astroturf." It comes from politics, when various advocacy organizations would get their members to inundate media or officialdom with supposedly spontaneous letters of outrage. But these campaigns weren't really "grassroots" -- hence astroturf.

The same is happening on the web, as political groups, marketers and others contrive phony communities, fan sites, blogs and so on to create the illusion of spontaneous consumer/voter interest.

Coca-Cola famously got caught faking a cult of Coke Zero.

It's an outgrowth of Listenomics, and also a perversion of Listenomics. And wherever it is discovered, the backlash will be severe.

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