YouTube Responds To Reply Girls, Changes Related & Recommended Videos Algorithm

By Megan O'Neill 

There’s been a war raging on YouTube as the community has lashed out against “the reply girls”—a group of girls that have learned to game the system and make tons of money on YouTube by posting pointless video replies prominently featuring their boobs (to entice viewers to click, of course).

Reply girl videos have taken over the related and recommended videos on popular YouTube video pages and over the past few months YouTubers have begun speaking out, signing petitions and even sending death threats in order to get YouTube to do something about this phenomenon.  It looks like YouTube has finally responded, making changes to the algorithm that determines which videos appear in the related and recommended videos.

Who are the reply girls?

Before we get to the changes in the algorithm, if you haven’t been following the reply girl saga, Fruzsina Eördögh over at The Daily Dot has been following the story with some fantastic coverage over the past few weeks.  She explains the root of the conflict:

In the world of YouTube, fans often respond to popular videos by making their own response video.  Those show up in the “related videos” space both at the end of the video, and on the right side bar, along with actual, similar videos.

The idea is that if you watch a popular video featuring a puppy playing with a baby, or a video game walk-through, you’ll want to watch similar videos, found on the right-hand side of the screen.  Increasingly, however, those related videos are being squeezed out.  Taking their place: reply-girl videos.

Although there are a number of girls that have been engaged in this practice, two reply girls have been at the center of this conflict—Alejandra Gaitan, known as TheReplyGirl, and Megan Lee Heart, known as MeganSpeaks (who also claims that she launched her response campaign as a joke, to make fun of TheReplyGirl, but that’s another story).  Both girls received hate mail, hate videos and even death threats from YouTubers fed up with all the boobs spamming the related and recommended videos.  Alejandra explains more in the Gawker video interview below.

What is YouTube doing to stop it?

After weeks of protest from the YouTube community, YouTube announced on Friday that they will be making changes to related and recommended videos.  While they don’t say specifically that this is a response to the reply girl situation, we think the connection is evident.  Currently, the algorithm dictates which videos will be suggested based upon the number of clicks they receive.  The reply girls were benefitting from this because (sorry to be blunt) it’s just human nature for viewers to want to click on thumbnails with boobs in them.  So YouTube is changing things up a bit:

We’ve been experimenting with the way we offer Related and Recommended videos, focusing on video engagement to get people to the videos they like more quickly.  In particular, we’ve discovered that time watched is one of the best indicators of a viewer’s engagement.  As a result, we’ll be focusing more prominently on time watched in providing Related and Recommended videos starting next week.  While we’ll still be looking at clicks, engagement will become the leading indicator for serving these videos.

YouTube points users that are worried about losing their own spots in the recommended and related videos to a number of resources, including information on audience retention, watch time optimization tips, and an FAQ on increasing viewing session length.

Response from the reply girls

So how are the reply girls responding to news of the algorithm change?  Alejandra, TheReplyGirl, upon hearing the news of the change, uploaded a very emotional video about how the reply saga is over.  This is a pretty big deal for her, as she has used YouTube as a means of rising above the poverty line and is counting on it for income (as she explains in the Gawker video above).

The next day, Alejandra uploaded another video in response to the new algorithm.  She says, “This change is going to kill almost every reply channel and, if it is not going to kill them, it is going to at least slow them down.”  She says, “I’m going to keep on going for approximately two weeks after the fourteenth as if nothing had happened” to test things out and get a feel for how it effects her views and income.  She is going to concentrate her energies on non-reply videos, including language lessons, personal blogs, modeling videos and more.

What’s your take on this whole ordeal?  Do you think that YouTube’s algorithm change will bring an end to the reply girl saga?

Megan O’Neill is the resident web video enthusiast here at Social Times.  Megan covers everything from the latest viral videos to online video news and tips, and has a passion for bizarre, original and revolutionary content and ideas.