Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

How the secret identity of LonelyGirl15 was found

Posted by Tom Foremski - September 12, 2006

When we broke the news of the identity of LonelyGirl15 late Monday evening, we knew it would be a big story.

I purposely did not send alert emails to my colleagues in the mainstream media or the blogosphere, because I wanted to see its natural progression through the entire mediasphere.

When I woke Tuesday morning, I checked Technorati and Google, and it seemed that very few people had spotted and linked to our story: SVW Exclusive- The identity of LonelyGirl15.

But by mid-day several large newspapers had picked up our story and were adding to it, a great demonstration of how such things work. I spoke with Steve Johnson from the Chicago Tribune, Virginia Heffernan from the New York Times. Mark Glaser from PBS' MediaShift also contacted me, and I spoke with Tom Abate at the San Francisco Chronicle.

My 18-year old son Matthew Foremski had done the online sleuthing. I'm very proud of his diligence and his nose for a great story. He had been working on the investigation all weekend, following up on various leads and sifting through online discussions, looking for clues.

He was fascinated by the fact that millions of people had watched LonelyGirl15 videos yet none of her friends, family, school friends had come forward to reveal her identity.

There were lots of other people also trying to uncover her identity. Matt's break came when he was following up on a posting about a discontinued MySpace page that might be linked to LonelyGirl15. By searching through online caches of web pages, and Google's index of images, he was able to pull together the identity of LonelyGirl15.

Monday evening he called me with the information. I was at my first US football game, the Oakland Raiders game in Oakland. [I was enjoying it immensely, a truly pure American experience, I loved it.]

I was excited that we had the story; but I wanted to make sure we had everything we needed before posting. I couldn't get back to my computer for a couple of hours, which was frustrating; but I didn't want to publish the story until I had checked Matt's links and images.

Everything looked good and we published the story. What was interesting was the scuffle the next day over who wanted to claim the scoop.

There were some who didn't link back to our story, making it seem as if they had the scoop.

There were others who didn't believe that Jessica Rose, a 19 year old from New Zealand, was the actress who played LonelyGirl15. They believed that this was all part of the overall plot.

I'm sure that the creators of LonelyGirl15 were not sophisticated enough to cover the online tracks of Jessica Rose before she became "Bree." That would have meant diligently hunting down and requesting the removal of cached copies of web pages. And there are a lot of sources for such cached content.

They were smart enougth to bring her in from New Zealand, probably figuring that with a smaller population, there would be less chance of friends or family revealing her identity.

Next: Lessons from the LonelyGirl15 saga...

Please see:

Mark Glaser at MediaShift: Matt Foremski’s Sleuthing Leads to Jessica Rose

SVW Exclusive- The identity of LonelyGirl15

LonelyGirl15 faked

LG15.com for more info and a discussion board. Tag: LonelyGirl15

Story link | Subscribe free | Categories: Mediasphere, New Rules Communications




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