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Confessions of a reply girl: Alejandra Gaitan bares all
You’ve seen her response videos. Now learn why the 24-year-old college dropout manipulated YouTube’s algorithms and sparked a site-wide controversy.
It’s OK to stare at Alejandra Gaitan’s breasts. In fact, it’s encouraged.
Gaitan is known as a reply girl—an opportunistic YouTube user who creates cleavage-filled response clips to trending videos and hotbed topics in order to generate page views and, in turn, advertising revenue.
From last November through February, the reply girls collectively dominated YouTube’s related-videos section through a combination of search-engine-optimization prowess, tag manipulation, and sex appeal. The tactic led to a site-wide controversy and protest six months later, with YouTube ultimately labeling the girls as spam and rewriting its code to address the matter.
But Gaitan is not just a reply girl. She’s the reply girl—the first to have a YouTube channel dedicated to the act. At the peak of the controversy, Gaitan had a dozen copycats and even some robots. And she’s still going strong, albeit in a slighty new direction, much to the disdain of her detractors.
“Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to be independent and make money on my own,” Gaitan told the Daily Dot over Skype. “I didn’t know how, but that’s what I always wanted to do.”
Inspired by the response videos of YouTube’s hemijeep19 and Megan Lee Heart, Gaitan saw an opportunity to finally stop living below the poverty line. The 24-year-old, who lives in Montreal with her mom and two sisters, dropped out of college and started making videos last summer—albeit with more revealing clothes than her contemporaries.
“Businesses have long used this technique,” Gaitan said in regards to her “sexiness.”
Soon, Gaitan was making roughly $15,000 a month on a production schedule that included at least five videos a day, she said. (YouTube partners are forbidden from revealing their exact earnings.)
But with the new revenue stream (and accompanying halter tops) also came a slew of “haters.”
Frustrated YouTuber users, mostly males upset by the “porn fakeout,” as Gawker’s Max Reed called it, began to flood her comment section with irate insults. Some made fun of her Mexican nationality and accent, while others went so far as to call her “retarded” and threatened her with rape and murder. (Gaitan is actually fluent in three languages.)
“They write ‘hope you get cancer, and you’ll burn in hell’,” said Gaitan, who estimated that 95 percent of the feedback she receives is “pure hatred.”
But there’s a silver lining to the vile commentary. It increases the videos’ rankings, since YouTube registers a dislike or a comment as a valid response.
“Besides, some of my haters are my subscribers, and they come and leave nasty comments on my videos every day. Haters are one of your most loyal viewers, it’s true.”
While various trolls attempt to “bully” her off the site, Gaitan has refused to budge, focusing instead on providing for her family.
“I could report the comments to YouTube partner support, but the amount of comments I get is insane,” Gaitan said. “And to me it’s a lot more stressful to read and report them, then just to ignore them.”
The comments that hurt her the most, she said, are the ones she gets from Heart, a fellow reply girl. On March 13, Gaitan claims that Heart and her comrades threatened to publicize Gaitan’s personal documents and come to Canada to physically harm her. The doxing attempt failed, thankfully, as Heart’s crew allegedly publicized Gaitan’s address associated with her IP address, not where Gaitan actually lives. (A spokesperson for Heart denied these allegations in response to this article.)
The feud remains an ongoing concern. Evidence of Heart’s harassment showed up in the comment section of Vice magazine’s May 12 video interview of Gaitan, which discussed her delinquent father, the tragic death of her boyfriend last winter, and her relationship with Heart. Heart’s self-identified manager also claimed in an email last week to the Daily Dot to be working on making a “formal argument to YouTube” to have Gaitan removed from the site.
“How you say, a barking dog with no bite?” Gaitan countered.
However, the pressure from Heart and YouTube’s new related-videos algorithm, which went into effect in March, has Gaitan looking forward to a new project—“an e-commerce website selling goods in the US.” Gaitan declined to comment further, stating, “I get so much hatred, I don’t want people to harass what I will be doing.”
“Hopefully, if everything works fine, I will be able to make a living out of it,” she said.
If not, there’s always college—and YouTube. Gaitan feels confident in her ability to work around the Google-owned company’s algorithms. For now, she’s taking a more personal and substantial approach to her reply videos and refusing to spam tags for fear of being booted from the site.
“Reply channels will never die. YouTube will have to cut people who do genuine replies, and they don’t want to do that.”
In the future, Gaitan said she wants to focus more on actual blogging.
“I hope that the people that are watching do appreciate me as a person” she said.
“In the end, I’m just a girl doing YouTube videos.”
Correction: A previous version of this story referred to Megan Lee Heart as Chrissie Barmore. This was based on reports that Heart’s original YouTube account was registered under that name, as well as documents released by Anonymous and 4chan. A representative for Heart refutes this claim.
Update: After this article published, a truce was mutually agreed upon by Heart and Gaitan.
Photo via YouTube
Fruzsina Eördögh was the Daily Dot's first YouTube reporter. In addition to working as a producer for the now-defunct digital channel TouchVision TV, Eördögh has been published by Vice, the Christian Science Monitor, the Guardian, Variety, and Slate.