You may not recognize Alejandra Gaitan’s face, but her voice and especially a certain area of her body have won her millions of views (and a number of sponsorships) on YouTube. Gaitan, who calls herself “The Reply Girl,” has carved out a career making YouTube videos commenting on other videos on the site. While a major source of YouTube’s democratic appeal is that everyone from your grandmother to a preteen can upload and discuss videos, Gaitan’s unconventional methods have earned her both advertising dollars and, now, a death threat.
Gawker’s Max Read describes the method Gaitan uses to get views:
... she copies the original video's tags and secures herself a spot on its page. Her shirts do the heavy lifting of bringing people to the video, and then a quirk in YouTube's "related videos" algorithm kicks in: when viewers register their dislike of Gaitan's video en masse with the "thumbs down" button, it actually drives the video further up the "related videos" ranking. This makes sense — if the Speaker of the House makes a reply to President Obama, Democrats will hit "dislike," but his video is still a legitimate reply — but it can allow for deeply-hated videos to climb to prominent placement.
His reference to her shirts is an understatement: Filmed in what appears to be a bedroom, the camera in Gaitan’s videos cuts off part of her forehead in favor of focusing in on her prominent breasts, which in video thumbnails are often framed by a low-cut shirt -- a tease Read refers to elsewhere in his piece as a “YouTube Porn Fakeout.”
Gaitan’s isn’t the only "reply girl" on YouTube. The Daily Dot defines the phenomenon as “young women -- some young enough to still be in high school -- who make videos in low-cut tops and push-up bras. Rather than baring their souls, they’re baring that age-old device often used to get attention: cleavage.”
Detractors, identified as the “Anti-Reply Girl movement” on Reddit, see content like Gaitan’s as “video spam,” attracting clicks that would otherwise go to “real” content. There’s even a change.org petition to stop it.
But Read argues that the success of ‘reply girls’ is empowering:
reply girls have industrialized the business of sexy YouTube thumbnails. They've set up their own channels and monetization agreements. They produce and control their images and content. And they've turned a profit by intelligently, and ruthlessly, exploiting YouTube's own sharing mechanisms and algorithms.
What do you think: Are these women just exercising their right to free speech? Is their ability to cash in on men’s desire to click on their bodies empowering or demeaning?