‘Excuse me you cannot say that she is a robot because you are not her you don’t get to give her a label before you get to know her first she says she’s human then she’s human.’
This is a comment made on the Instagram page of Miquela, also known as @lilmiquela, apparently defending her existence as a human being.
Other comments on Lil Miquela’s Instagram page include; ‘I’m confused’, ‘Is this a robot or what?’, and ‘Where’s the shadow?’
Miquela Sousa, also known as Lil Miquela, is a 19-year-old fashion influencer from LA with over a million followers. She’s just like any other Instagram influencer, she snaps herself in the latest designers, she has over a million followers, goes to Coachella and is into crystals. She hangs out with Nile Rodgers and fashion icon Giovanna Battaglia Engelbert, and has even worked with Prada.
The catch is, like so many of the shiny augmented realities on Instagram, she’s not real.
One of these inexplicable mysteries of the internet, the more research you do on Miquela, the more confused you get.
The story goes, Miquela was created by artificial intelligence agency Cain Intelligence (also fake), a fact that she was forced to reveal to her fans back in April when fellow CGI influencer and Trump supporter Bermuda put pressure on her to admit she wasn’t human. This was a revelation to Miquela, and bizarrely, also to a number of her fans. In a statement to her followers, she said ‘OK now here’s the hard part. My hands are literally shaking. I’m not a human being.’
‘This introduction is long overdue and for that, we apologise. Mostly, we want to apologise to our beloved client and friend Miquela Sousa.’
We are still none the wiser.
So what is going on?
Last year it’s estimated that businesses in the U.S spent $1.6 billion on influencers to endorse their products on Instagram alone. Instagram trades on the visibility of reality, lifestyles to aspire to, and privileged behind-the-scenes insights into people’s ‘lives’.
Some believe that Miquela is a digital marketing tool. Ryan Shelley, a social media expert at Pepper IT, suggests the ‘melodrama’ created around Miquela’s existence is likely to be Brud working on a lifelike digital marketing technology. ‘It’s a sort of brochure…their demonstration to the market’, he said.
Could this mean the end of the social media influencer, to be replaced by easily creatable, easily controlled CGI characters? With a mere one million followers she has a long way to go to catch up with other so-called influencers like American-Venezuelan Instagram ‘comedian’ Lele Pons, who currently has over 24 million followers.
Others have argued that Miquela is a social comment on the modern disconnect between society and reality. It doesn’t take a genius to see that 90% of what we see on Instagram is staged, however, when all you see day in day out is flat stomachs on tropical beaches, fancy restaurants, and large groups of ecstatic friends have the BEST time, you do start to wonder what you’re doing wrong when it’s just you, Netflix, and a bottle of wine, again.
Removing reality altogether adds an interesting layer to a platform already criticised for its fakeness. With scandals like the famous Kim Kardashian photoshop flop, it is easy to see the link between false images and body dysmorphia and conditions like depression and anxiety.
‘It’s interesting to see Instagram ranking as the worst for mental health and wellbeing’ says Shirley Cramer, chief executive of the Royal Society for Public Health. ‘Both platforms [Instagram and Snapchat] are very image focused and it appears that they may be driving feelings of inadequacy and anxiety in young people.’
The creators of Miquila (if they are to be believed) are not too difficult to find, their names and faces are listed on Brud’s LinkedIn page. What isn’t clear is the motive behind the creation of Lil Miquela, and her fellow CGI influencers Bermuda and Blawko 22 still remain a mystery. Is this the future of digital marketing? Or is it a poignant comment on the vacuous and sometimes harmful effects of projecting false and unattainable lifestyles and bodies into the world?
Removing humans from the mix both creates and removes issues of ethics. If artificial influencers are more capable or willing to speak up on social injustices and can be made to look any way the industry wants them to without detriment to mental or physical health, then maybe the idea has legs. Equally, do we want to take fashion tips or even mental health advice from a being incapable of intelligent thought?
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