I have to hang my head in shame here. I didn’t find out about the Lonelygirl15 story until a few weeks ago (at the Web 2.2 Conference), and I didn’t actually watch any of it until today. Yes, I’ve been living under a rock. But maybe I’m not the only one. So if you, too, have been living under a rock as far as hip internet obsessions go, let me get you up to speed. There’s a popular website called YouTube, where people can post videos. Some people use it to blog via video. Some video blogs become popular and have lots of readers. Still with me? Good. This is where it gets interesting. Lonelygirl15A couple of creative filmmakers staged a fictional video blog about a 16-year-old homeschooled girl with strict parents who are involved in a strange religion. The blog follows her relationship with a guy, her rebellion against her parents, and a strange turn of events that leaves her homeless. And because having the video blog is part of her rebellion, the millions of youtube viewers are intimately involved in her dramatic story. And they think it’s real, because no one called it fiction. Well, not for awhile at least. Eventually rumors leaked out and the creators and actors were exposed. Her community felt enraged and betrayed. The rest of the web was fascinated. At the Web 2.2 Conference we had a facilitated discussion on the topic of trust on the web. Were Lonelygirl15’s creators wrong to do this? Yes and no. They did knowingly betray the trust of an audience. But video blogging is also a new medium, and its standards are still in their early evolution. If it had been a specifically art or creative performance website, there wouldn’t have been a problem. If you say “this is true” in a known fiction setting, there’s an understanding of ambiguity, and no one will hate you if it turns out to be fiction. What are our responsibilities to people’s assumptions? Where is it okay to push known boundaries? Is it okay to mess with people for the sake of art? What about for the sake of advertising (which lonelygirl15 was thankfully not)? Does this example open the door for more blatant challenges of our assumptions, or did it cross too far over the line?The outrage from this “scandal” exposes a weak spot in our internet culture — we want to believe we know what’s going on, even though this is all new territory with lots of unexplored areas. We fear ambiguity, and we fear being exposed for our ignorance, even though both are unavoidable. So if you, like me, missed the boat on the Lonelygirl15 obsession, I encourage you to check it out now and draw your own conclusions about the controversy. You can also learn a lot by reading the comments below each post, and watching how they evolved from trust to accusation.

Personally? I think the whole thing is pretty neat.