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:
“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.
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.
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.