Instagram’s (and Spotify’s) Biggest Mystery

A few weeks back, I received a text in a group chat from a friend from home. It was a screenshot of an Instagram account, specifically a screenshot of a girl in a bikini somewhat close to the camera, with a quaint sunset and calm waters behind. I paid no mind at first, thinking that it was someone my friends all knew and I didn’t. I had no idea what to expect—were my friends going to make judgmental comments about her body? Ask about where to buy her bikini? Say how they, too, took a picture similar to this one? Once the endless GroupMe texts kept coming in, I knew I had to take a second look.

A few of the messages I received included:

“HOW WEIRD”

“OK WOW CONFUSING”

“I feel like she’s real and just edits her photos a s**t ton”

And the best text…

“Can everyone in tech chill?”

It turns out that the Instagram account shown in screenshots was @lilmiquela, an Instagram influencer, musician, artist, and most importantly, computer-generated teen or 20-something-year-old girl. Besides viewing the screenshots, I immediately went to her verified Instagram account, which has over 412 thousand followers. In utter disbelief of her existence, I scrolled wide-mouthed for over 30 minutes, clicking through pictures, reading captions, and noticing strategically branded posts.

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The strangest thing to me was how real “lil” Miquela, also known as “Miquela Sousa,” acts on social media. Despite her visibly computer-generated nature, which one might not even notice at first, she maintains a strong, cult-like following, posting like any other trendy, progressive teen celebrity. Many posts of Miquela’s consist of selfies, individual poses against monochromatic backgrounds, as well as features with other semi-famous artists, models, and musicians. One of her most recent posts even features her posing against a wall with an Ikea bag, claiming to be shopping for her first apartment in Los Angeles.

And Miquela’s Instagram presence isn’t even the most shocking part about her. Not only is she Instagram famous, but she also has a few singles on Spotify, as well as a Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr. Each song is heavily synthesized and electronic, and with no music videos, one can only imagine what “Miquela,” if real at all, looks like. Miquela’s virtual celebrity is incredibly interesting and mysterious, reminding me of musicians like Sia, Daft Punk, and Deadmau5, who all wear disguises while performing. In this case, followers and skeptical people alike have no idea what Miquela truly is, who controls her accounts, and even if she’s based on a real person. Producing real content is what sets Miquela apart from any other robots or virtual characters of the past.

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Theories

There are differing theories that exist online both from people who are incredibly allured and creeped out by Miquela. With a handful of posts featuring brand products, many people think that Miquela’s creation was solely for a monetary purpose. Such posts make followers wonder whether there is a puppet master behind the curtain. Behind Miquela’s songs, after all, is a record label, which can be using her fame and celebrity to sell music and push endorsements. Her existence creates such a large marketing buzz that this continued, mysterious stunt could work in the music industry’s favor due to its declining popularity and profitability.

Other people argue that Miquela’s purpose is to make a statement about the genuineness of social media. It brings into question whether all people on social media are honest and truthful in their own personal portrayals. Where is the line between real or fake, and especially cool or creepy? People may also question how far social media can go—if people are willing to follow a computer generated teen now, what else will happen going into the future?

Computers as Entertainment

This bizarre account reminded me of the discussion from the last class about artificial intelligence, especially when coping with the question can all human jobs be replaced by technology? In the entertainment industry, creativity is key, and singers and performers can be helped tremendously from technology such as voice synthesizers and auto tune. In my opinion, social media should not be overrun with computer-generated “humans” and virtual entertainers. If Miquela’s posts are genuine in writing, I would appreciate genuine pictures posted alongside. With such uncertainty with social media as is, I find it hard to actually believe anything associated with Miquela. Hopefully as time goes on, this mystery can fully be uncovered, maybe even revealing the true artist that lies beneath the surface and behind the curtain. Until this time, though, I would have to agree with my friend. Yes, tech needs to chill.

 

10 comments

  1. Sheritta Coleburn · ·

    Ha..”Tech needs to chill”! After reading this post I had to take a look at her Instagram myself. It is hard to say if her pictures are actually real or untouched. Even pictures she has posted with other persons the photo seems to not look real. It would be very interseting to see Miquela in person to compare her photos to what she looks like in real life!

  2. Wow, I definitely think this is very creepy. I didn’t know that computer generated users were allowed on Instagram, but I’m not too surprised especially after our class on AI. I personally do not think that companies should be able to create digital social media influencers, as I think that it will begin to ruin the trust that people have formed with real-life influencers, such as Kayla Itsines. By allowing computer generated users, Instagram and other social media platforms may be ultimately hurting themselves, since less trust will most likely result in less usage of their platform. People already get angry when their feeds are filled with advertisements from human users, and this takes it to a completely different level. I’m very interested in finding out what company is behind “Miquela” and whether or not this new kind of social media user will become more popular with time.

  3. sherricheng5 · ·

    Wow, awesome post!! This is so interesting; I’m definitely really creeped out but also very intrigued. How does Instagram allow someone like this to be “verified”? This brings into question what it even means to be verified and what it means to be a social media influencer. Will the future of social media platforms consist of “robots” or computer-generated people having large followings ? Are these “people” going to be able to influence us? Miquela’s large following on Instagram goes to show that many people are okay with the idea of being influenced by artificial beings. Even if there is someone real controlling the accounts of Miquela, wouldn’t this be considered fraud in a way? I personally would be hesitant on trusting the advice of a computer-generated girl because I wouldn’t know where the source of the information would be coming from, which is really unsettling to me. I agree with your points about relating this to artificial intelligence. If a computer-generated girl can release music on Spotify and influence thousands through social media, what is stopping robots from taking over daily aspects of our lives?

  4. fernanfu89 · ·

    Really interesting article! It is quite creepy that people behind a computer generated image impersonate some other person. I just find it interesting that maybe in the future, you won’t be able to determine if someone is real or not and more than anything, probably companies and political agendas will be behind all this. Now the most interesting question will be one AI become smarter than us, will social media be dominated by computers and everything will look perfect, except those posts made by humans.

  5. Hilary_Gould · ·

    This is so creepy! At first glance she definitely looks real, but it’s crazy to think that people created that image. What amazes me is thinking about the people behind her persona. What is their main purpose? It definitely brings up the idea of fake news– if fake people can be created that opens a whole new can of worms in terms of photoshop and other similar things. It’s just super weird to think a fake person has such a loyal following. I also agree with @sherricheng5 about the whole idea of her being verified– how is that possible if it’s just a persona??

  6. britt_hopkins4 · ·

    This is SO weird and uncomfortable! She kind of reminds me of a SIM that I would create, but the fact that people are treating her as a real person is slightly concerning. I feel like eventually, with the advancement of AI, you’ll see people walking around with someone next to them. I feel like this is such an easy way for predators to hide behind identities similar to cat fishing. It makes me nervous not knowing who is behind the animation and what their intentions are. If this is going to become the new norm, it will start to feel like some sort of Utopia.

    1. s_courtney18 · ·

      @britthopkins4 funny you should mention SIMs! One of the other theories I didn’t write about was that Miquela was released to hype up the next version of SIMs that would be released sometime within the year. In a phone interview I found online, she explicitly said she was not associated with SIMs at all, but who knows–she’s a complete mystery!

  7. I’ve been fascinated by the performance art that has sprung up over the years on SM. About 5 years ago, there was a Twitter account called @horse_ebooks that was supposedly a bot that tweeted out random sentences from books. Turned out it was a human seeing what kind of following he could get. Various versions of these have happened, many of which are really interesting. LonelyGirl15 was another one, supposedly a journal but was really a produced piece of content.

  8. Wow, this is crazy. I, like so many others commented, had to check her account out for myself. There was this one Instagram post that I found especially intriguing, and almost “trippy.” The picture is a CGI of Miquela in just her underwear, and the caption is talking about… body image. That is a little much for me, and took me on a rabbit whole of what is the purpose of this account. If it is to make profit/become an influencer, what are the ramifications of a CGI talking about having good body image? Is it a good thing, no matter “who” you are, to talk about body shaming if you have a big following, to try and change the public perceptions? Or is it a pointless post that is just trying to capitalize on current trends since you can’t really preach about having good body image, and encouraging others to, if you have no body… I don’t know how I feel about this, but I think that these accounts will only keep appearing with more regularity.

    1. s_courtney18 · ·

      That post really creeped me out too @lwennbie! She has a lot of posts similar to this (maybe not as strange, though). She has a lot of political opinions as well–I’m not sure if they’re all posted to give her a stronger following among younger generations who take this more to heart. I read another theory that her true self might be revealed down the line and maybe she will have a look and body image nobody was expecting. Either way, you make a great point and I don’t know how to feel about it either…personally I would be more comfortable with a real person talking about these issues instead of a computer generated “person”.

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