How the “LonelyGirl15″ Internet hoax got foiled

So a few guys conspired to start an Internet phenomenon in order to get an eventual movie deal. They hired a youngish-looking actress from New Zealand to record video diaries pretending like she was a hot teenager who was homeschooled by uber-religious parents. It was hinted that her parents were satantic cult members, and she kept referring to some upcoming ceremony that she had to prepare for.

Supposedly this was a big deal and was heating up YouTube, where active members figured out the hoax when LonelyGirl15 never responded to their comments and just carried on with her scripted monologues. Someone else figured out that a lawyer took out a trademark for the “LonelyGirl15″ name, other people tricked “her” into e-mailing with them, and another guy googled pictures of the actress.

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 improbably stole 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 phony fan site that accompanied them — marks the end of one of the Internet’s more elaborately constructed mysteries. Whether fans, whose disbelief in lonelygirl15 was not willingly suspended, but rather teased and toyed with, will embrace the project as a new narrative form, condemn it, or simply walk away, never to be fooled again, 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. Many of the lonelygirl15 videos were shot in Mr. Flinders’s bedroom. Together with Grant Steinfeld, a software engineer in San Francisco, Mr. Flinders contrived to produce and distribute the videos so as 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 found through Google…

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 address that was being used by “Bree”; the operation netted them the Internet address of a computer at 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 semi-professional production like “lonelygirl15″ would have posted pictures somewhere. Sure enough, he was right.

Mr. Steinfeld, on learning that Mr. Flinders and Dr. 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 on-set pictures at the start of shooting.

The NY Times makes it seem like it was this big complicated sting, but it sounds pretty straightforward to me. It’s pretty simple to do a trademark search online. All the e-mail sleuths did was send LonelyGirl a message on MySpace and use an IP Lookup to trace the e-mail response back to Creative Artists Agency, who got involved in the project once it gained popularity.

Here’s one of the “LonelyGirl15″ videos. It seemed really fake to me and she’s a terrible actress, but I supposed you could chalk that up to this chick’s personality. The editing is also decent, suggesting it’s produced:

Personally I really don’t give a shit about this. It’s a dumb hoax and it seems like LonelyGirl15′s “15″ minutes are just about over. They might try to spin it into a movie deal, but it’s doubtful that it will be successful.

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4 Responses to “How the “LonelyGirl15″ Internet hoax got foiled”

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  1. jess says:

    even though we knew it wasnt real my friends and i loved this. it was soooo funny…

  2. Ayar says:

    … i want some cheese :/

  3. Jude says:

    I managed to never even hear of this until now. Thank God.

  4. cc says:

    i hear ya Jude.