These influencers have tens of thousands of followers–but they’re not even real people
How authentic can an in uencer be when he or she doesn’t really exist?
By now, I’m sure you know about social inuencers. With large followings on social media, these individuals are deemed to be able to inuence the masses by sharing what they consume.
They can be anyone, but generally, they’ve spent the time to build reputations as authorities on a particular subject. Anything they like enough to feature is seen by their followers, which in turn tends to lead to increased sales for the thing.
The ease of reposting a comment means a single photo or video post can be shared with ten times the original audience. This makes it easy to see why brands see social media as an avenue to extend their marketing. After all, opinions from real people are more authentic than an advertisement, aren’t they?
Maybe. As more companies tap on inuencers to market their product, more cases of inauthentic posts have started to surface. Likes and followers are bought not earned, leading
to fake metrics. And cases of fraud exist; at least one photographer has tried passing off other’s work as his own. Plus, stories of inuencers extorting free or discounted stays at hotels and resorts have arisen.
But if fake opinions from real people are an issue, what about real opinions from fake people? Meet supermodel Shudu Gram and musician Lil Miquela.
Shudu Gram’s Instagram account has 130,000 followers from only 27 posts. She shot to fame when Rhianna’s makeup company, Fenty Beauty, reposted an image of
Shudu wearing a shade of its lipstick.
Lil Miquela has 1.3 million followers on her Instagram account. She’s partnered with Giphy and
Prada, showing off their latest creations on her feed. Besides having her own
Spotify page, Miquela is also an activist for equal rights. She encourages her followers to donate to causes like the Black Girls
Code and to be a “better ally” to transgender people. Sounds like a real person with a heart, doesn’t it?
Except neither Shudu nor Miquela exists. Both are CGI creations that only live online and in the minds of their creators. Brud, the company behind Miquela, has raised millions of dollars from venture capitalists like Sequoia Capital. It has created at least two other virtual inuencers, Blawko22 and BermudaisBae. Both are gaining followers rapidly, with 133,000 and 82,900 followers respectively. Bae, in particular, created a stir when she allegedly hacked Miquela’s account to “force” her into admitting that she’s a robot, not a human.
We now have two inuencers who, for all intents and purposes, are not real humans. But they’ve captured the attention of thousands. They don’t pretend to be human but have an audience that brands would love to get access to, and so endorsement deals will surely be on the way.
But how authentic can a virtual personality be when she can’t actually taste or feel the products she’s “using”? And who’s the actual inuencer? Is it the virtual personality, or the person who created the virtual personality? This is not as clear-cut as it may seem. Anybody can control a social media feed, more so when they don’t have to front it. It could be a single person, or ten different people posting, and we would be none the wiser.
There is no legal precedent governing virtual inuencers yet. Nor is there anything stopping brands from creating their own virtual inuencers that only say good things. As much as we can accept that online personas are not our real-world selves, this is taking it to another level.
Virtual characters are only going to get more and more life-like too. Companies like Quantum Capture are working on digital humans that will make the current generation of virtual inuencers look low-res in comparison. These virtual inuencers are going to pick up steam. But how real can inuence be if it comes from people that don’t even exist?