YouTube and Authenticity


Social interaction, be it in person or on the internet, comes with a social contract; the two individuals trust that both are to a similar degree being honest and forthcoming of their identity and intent. On YouTube, we see a great deal of interaction, be it through comments, video responses, subscribing, and so forth. Many times, this interaction’s value is based on the truth or “authenticity”, as the relationship rides on this social contract. However, every person is capable of breaking this contract, be it from unmentioned intent, inaccurate presentation, and acting. The community of YouTube is of no exception, as Tubers can create a background, an image, an identity, and a message. Software and technogoly provide the capabilities, as the anomynity of the internet provides the shield.

Lonelygirl is a prime example of this breach of the social contract. Widely subscribed in her first few weeks, users connected and interacted with “Bree”, unaware that she was a fictive character. Users shared empathy, stories, and advice, believing that because of her responses earlier on, that she cared about them as well. However, some began to question her vlogging, as it was too perfect, too well lit, with inconsistent shadows, noises, and so forth. The controversy grew as the YouTube community took their sides, pro entertainment versus pro reality. Eventually, press got word of the debate and determined that she indeed was fictive, with a supportive crew. In lieu of this news, LonelyGirl soon sparked a wave of witch hunts to find out who was real, who was a scam, even -i- have been accused of being a scam. However, it was never the obvious acts, rather than suspiciously minute details, that caused youtubers to react. It was not about the clown characters or masked individuals, they have made their intents clear. “average vloggers” however, have accused and been accused of being too editing savvy, too well spoken, and too dramatic to be real. However, the real question at hand is whether they are honest about their manipulations and bending of “the truth”, of their acting, exaggeration, editing, scripting, and so on.


Associate professor of cultural anthropology. Ed Traceur. Hacker. Car-free.

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5 Responses

  1. Chris Burns says:

    It’s an interesting concept that people expect vlogging to be totally genuine; isn’t one of the major reasons behind the attraction to virtual comms the anonymity that it provides? I think a majority of users think that just because the physical anonymity of someone’s appearance is relinquished they expect the content of their vblog or misc video to be totally real and accurate.

    But isn’t this just a internet issue? I think not. How many people have exaggerated or down right lied to someone during a first meet? To a certain extent you can be who ever you want to be to someone who doesn’t already know you. People live double lives with their own fictitious persona and reality and I think it was inevitable that this spilled over to the virtual world.

    Chris Burns
    School of Electronics and Computer Science
    University of Southampton, UK

  2. Devon Copley says:

    Hi Becky -

    Enjoyed your video. Authenticity is a fascinating topic. I’d recommend that you pick up a copy of Lionel Trilling’s “Sincerity and Authenticity” if you haven’t already; his treatment of the topic is deep and sophisticated and should serve as a spur to your research.

    Best regards -