Friday, March 09, 2012
BOB GARFIELD: Imagine you're watching a viral video on YouTube, maybe something like a kid hilariously hopped up on drugs after a dental procedure. Wanting to see more kids hopped up on drugs videos, you look to the right of the screen at the list of related videos suggested by YouTube. One of them stands out though because not only is it apparently related, it features some serious cleavage! So you click on it, and you get something like this:
“REPLY GIRL”: The monkey video? Yeah but the monkeys, they — they're going crazy.
“REPLY GIRL”: So hi, you guys, I just saw a video and I saw this epic handshake like the title say, the guys go around dancing and stuff.
“REPLY GIRL”: Actually, I was looking at the - trailer for it, and I thought it was awesome.
BOB GARFIELD: You've just encountered what is known as a "reply girl," women who have gained the Google algorithm with a combination of clever tagging and the ultimate click candy, breasts. And they've made serious money doing it, to the chagrin and sometimes outrage of other YouTubers.
WOMAN: Dear Reply Girls, I am fed up of going to watch the latest Yogscast adventure, only to be shocked by a massive pair of boobs along the side of the screen.
MAN: Whoever the [BLEEP] is making these videos, I'm sorry, when I click on a video and I want to say maybe, you know, some related videos, and all I see is your [BLEEP] tits, it’s so annoying.
BOB GARFIELD: YouTube aficionados ordinarily use reply videos to communicate with each other on the video-sharing site, either to respond to or parody or critique an original video. That is, says Daily Dot writer Fruzsina Eordogh until "reply girls" crowded out the legitimate replies.
FRUZSINA EORDOGH: They reply to every popular video in a low-cut top and they make sure that their breasts are in focus, and this means that the top of their heads are cut off. And they've figured out that if they copy the tags on the video that their video will appear on the right side of the screen at the very top, and people will click on them because they're showing their cleavage.
Because they're making so many videos a day, sometimes they don't really have time to watch the video or to think too much about what they're saying.
So they will just talk for about a minute. Sometimes they won't even say anything and they even begin to make robots like an animated woman with text-to-voice speech.
WOMAN: My Xbox got the death rings yesterday and now I’m watching this. Video of my life.
FRUZSINA EORDOGH: A lot of times when videos get viewed a lot, they get approached by YouTube to join the YouTube Partner Program, and this means that they get a cut of ad revenue. So it's all about getting views. That's why they don't spend too much effort on the actual content of the video, just they want to make sure they get the initial click. And, you know, people don't even watch the whole video. They only watch like the first ten seconds before they realize what it is.
BOB GARFIELD: But people do click on these things. Is it just the cleavage? Is that it?
FRUZSINA EORDOGH: It is, and that's one reason why the whole YouTube community has gotten very upset over this. They've been called whores and sluts, as well as idiots. You know, a stupid person wouldn't have been able to manipulate the algorithm the way that these women had. They have to be somewhat savvy and they have to be watching YouTube on a regular basis in order to figure out what video is going to go viral.
BOB GARFIELD: I want to drill a little deeper into this notion of the monetization of boobage. A lot of third parties have used cleavage as click candy through the whole history of the Internet, including The Huffington Post and The Philadelphia Inquirer. It is a surefire way of getting people to click through. Is putting yourself up directly really any different than being a model hired by a third party to put it up on his site to generate clicks?
FRUZSINA EORDOGH: No, I don't think there is a difference. But you have to realize that the YouTube community isn't getting mad just because of the boobage. You know, they're also getting mad because of lost revenue, because people are manipulating this algorithm, because they're not actually contributing anything to the conversation. So they've sort of bastardized what the reply function should be.
The video game commentating team, the Yogscast would film a story arc. There would be chapters and the other chapters would be in the related videos bar. But they ended up losing money with the "reply girls" because people weren't checking out the rest of the chapters, they weren't viewing the rest of their videos ‘cause they were covered in boobs.
BOB GARFIELD: Now, some people have complained in replies to the "reply girls" that they don't want to click, they really don't want to but they just, they just have to!
FRUZSINA EORDOGH: Yeah. One of the very first males that made a big ruckus on YouTube said that boobs are like Venus fly traps. You know, we can't resist. At one point in the video he also said, “You know something is wrong if I have to complain about breasts.”
I was just watching one the other day of an 11-year-old boy who was going off about the "reply girls."
BOY: So these new boob girl videos that make replies absolutely annoy me. It's like YouTube prostitution, and it's really disappointing to see that. And it makes women seem a lot more dumb and incapable, that that's just how they want to make money, showing their boobs. It's absolutely wrong. All these men can't help it, clicking on the video. I go — I mean, I fell for it.
BOB GARFIELD: Google is very attentive to the various ways to game its algorithm and for people to corrupt the system at large. Have they made any attempts to shut down the "reply girls?”
FRUZSINA EORDOGH: Yes, they actually are currently in the process of rewriting their algorithm. And they are treating the "reply girls" as spam. And besides Google, a lot of the girls themselves are actually giving up the "reply girl" business.
BOB GARFIELD: The emotional toll being more than it's worth for the money that they're getting?
FRUZSINA EORDOGH: Yes. A lot of them have been bullied. They've received threatening messages. People are harassing them on all of their online spaces, as well as posting their public information on various forums. They just don't want to deal with it anymore.
But Alejandra Gaitain - she was the first woman to make a channel just dedicated to this sort of video, and she said that she's not going to stop making these videos because she likes doing them and she's tired of living below the poverty line.
BOB GARFIELD: If you had to fill out their 1040s, what would you call 'em? Occupation?
FRUZSINA EORDOGH: Maybe social media expert, I guess. But also, there's the whole soft core porn element. So maybe soft core porn social media expert? [LAUGHS]
BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS] Soft core search engine optimization.
FRUZSINA EORDOGH: Yes. [LAUGHS]
BOB GARFIELD: Fruzsina, thank you. It's been a pleasure.
FRUZSINA EORDOGH: Oh, thank you. I've enjoyed myself, as well.
BOB GARFIELD: Fruzsina Eordogh is a writer for dailydot.com.
ALEJANDRA GAITAIN: I will not stop, even though the algorithm changes, even if I'm the only one left. The reviews. I'll keep on going, no matter what!
[CLIP/REPLY GIRL SONG]:
JUMOKE HILL: [SINGING]
I like the way though the reply girls reply to videos.
They're so smart.
Oooh-ooh, smart, smart whoa-oh-oh – ooh-oooh
Especially with those thumbnails yeah.
Whatever they say, we don't care
Everyone just stops and stares
The reply girls, whoa-ho, whoa, yeah.
BOB GARFIELD: That's it for this week's show. On the Media was produced by Jamie York, Alex Goldman, PJ Vogt, Sarah Abdurrahman and Chris Neary, with more help from Luisa Beck and Rob Schoon and edited – by Brooke. Our technical director is Jennifer Munson. Our engineer this week was Rob Grannis.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Katya Rogers is our senior producer. Ellen Horne is WNYC's senior director of National Programs. Bassist composer Ben Allison wrote our theme. You can listen to the program and find transcripts at onthemedia.org. On the Media is produced by WNYC and distributed by NPR. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I’m Bob Garfield.