My first academic article has been published! The article, published in First Monday, titled, “Real Vlogs: The Rules and Meanings of Online Personal Videos,” looks at how users on YouTube talk about what vlogs are “real” or authentic, and “fake” or inauthentic. Here’s the abstract:
This paper explores what the “rules” of vlogging (video blogging) are: the various visual and social practices viewers and creators understand and debate as either authentic or inauthentic on YouTube. It analyzes a small, random set of vlogs on YouTube and highlight several controversies around key celebrities on the site. This essay concludes by challenging whether conversations around authenticity will persist in dialogues about online video.
The paper looks several different kinds of vlogs to see to examine what visual strategies count as a real vlog and which ones do not.
In general, however, what is interesting is that even though, for some users, certain vlogs are definitely more authentic than others, a number of YouTubers either don’t care or expressly advocate for doing whatever you need to do to your video to get views. This pits the “authentic” with the “commercial.” But it’s not always an either/or presumption. The essay concludes by stating that the distinctions between what is real and fake may be collapsing, and users instead defer to whatever moves them emotionally — through hilarity, seriousness, etc.
I think the most valuable contribution of the piece might be the section on Lonelygirl15, which has been written about, but I really speak a long time combing through blog posts and new reports to figure out who said what about Bree, who thought she was fake and why, and what all of those conversations meant for the meaning of online video. I also narrate an interesting incident about LisaNova — when she first started LonesomeRhodes — that is a small incident within the scale of YouTube, but nonetheless a significant one, I would argue.
I’d also like to throw in, which I only allude to in the article, that many of the debates I highlight are really remnants of YouTube’s early days of popularity (2006/2007). By now, most people on the site have seen it all, and few things shock. These debates still happen though, as with the young girl who cried about her legal problems with sexual abuse, and the Raz-B incident, two incidents I write about elsewhere.