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?

HWM (Singapore) - - THINK - By Marcus Wong

By now, I’m sure you know about so­cial inuencers. With large fol­low­ings on so­cial me­dia, these in­di­vid­u­als are deemed to be able to inuence 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 inuencers 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 inuencers 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 inuencers, 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 inuencers 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 inuencer? 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 inuencers yet. Nor is there any­thing stop­ping brands from creat­ing their own vir­tual inuencers 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 inuencers look low-res in com­par­i­son. These vir­tual inuencers are go­ing to pick up steam. But how real can inuence be if it comes from peo­ple that don’t even ex­ist?

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