What can I believe on social media?

As I was doing some research on what to write about for this blog, I came across a very interesting Instagram profile: Miquela Sousa, aka Lil Miquela. Lil Miquela is a 19-year-old Brazilian-American teenager who became active on the internet in 2016. She is an Instagram influencer, singer, and model. Lil Miquela has worked with many major brands such as Calvin Klein and with celebrities such as Bella Hadid. She currently has 3 million followers on Instagram, and she is also active across other platforms: YouTube, TikTok, Tumbler, etc. Lastly, she’s not real, she is a robot.

To be more specific, Lil Miquela is a computer-generated social media influencer (aka not a human being). And according to Bloomberg, she is estimated to be making $10 million (!!) dollars a year and the company that created her, Brud, is estimated to worth $125 million dollars (as of 2019). 

After browsing her profile for a few minutes, I can understand why she has such a huge following. She is beautiful, fashionable, and even socially conscious about current events. But at the end of the day, she is ‘fake’, and to be honest, the concept of a CGI influencer is a little scary to me. We’ve talked about artificial intelligence in class and how machines and robots will replace many of the existing jobs, but a CGI influencer? I’m not sure how I feel about this. 

Although, after all, how much we find on the internet is real, anyway?

Statistically, there are approximately 90 million fake accounts on Instagram. And how much of the content itself we see is fake? I would guess probably a lot. It seems like nowadays so many people will do a lot out of their way to take and/or alter a picture in hopes for more likes. Consequently, social media has made huge impact to our mental health. As we’re browsing, our brain’s reward center is activated by releasing dopamine and it makes us feel good. But it also is making many of us addicted. Studies have shown that social media strongly correlated with decreased and disrupted sleep, which lead to depression and memory loss. Furthermore, spending more time on our phones leave us less time going outside and working out, which may lead to anxiety and mental illness. 

As we’re exploring new posts and stories, oftentimes we are unconsciously comparing ourselves to the influencer, even if the picture is maybe photoshopped, staged, or even … ‘fake’ like Lil Miquela’s profile. In fact, plastic surgeons have seen increased new patients wanting to look like their filtered Snapchat and Instagram photos. According to a New York Times article, a newlywed couple even separated after the honeymoon due to the wife spending more time planning for the trip and posting selfies than spending time with her husband. 

Going back to Lil Miquela, she is a young adult who has a perfect life and can do it all. Even though she is portrayed as being successful at everything she does, most of us wouldn’t compare ourselves to her because she is a robot. Yet, just like Lil Miquela, many influencers portray themselves as having that nearly perfect lives, and looking at their pictures makes us feel sad about ourselves. After all, from what I see, all they have to do is share stories about their daily lives and post a few sponsored posts (#ad), which frankly sometimes make me question my career choices. 

Last year, Covid-19 has made many of us stay at home more than ever before. It also left us with more time on our phones browsing on social media. As much as I admire the countless posts of influencers creating their new picture-perfect home office and gym setup, I continue having to remind myself to limit my phone usage. Our smartphones and social media are meant to allow us to connect with each other virtually and definitely not meant for us to constantly compare ourselves to strangers on the internet, especially if it’s a robot. 

Referenced material:

The Social Dilemma: Social Media and Your Mental Health

Sorry, Lil Miquela Could Make How Much This Year???

This Social Media Influencer is a Robot – But How Could This Influence the Future?

9 comments

  1. I confess that the concept of a virtual influencer was a bit weird to me at first, since there were so many people competing for those positions. That said, considering the track record of these influencers eventually doing something stupid, maybe a virtual one is less risky for the brands.

  2. therealerindee · ·

    The virtual influencer is fascinating. Your description of Lil Miquela reminds of of the deepfake Tom Cruise that is currently blowing up on TikTok. It truly looks exactly like Tom Cruise. Makes me wonder if virtual influencers and deepfake technology will start to push human influencers out of this market as I’m sure they are able to create more content at a better quality. Your post also reminded me about a documentary that recently came out called “Fake Famous” where they took normal people and turned them into Instagram influencer. It just showed me why I would never want to be an influencer, but was also fascinating. Great post!

  3. Great posts! I can clearly view the potential risks of this virtual influencer getting more and more exposed to the audience. I have similar feelings when I checked updates every day on social platforms like Tiktok, Instagram, that all of them seem to have a perfect life. It also reminds me of the Japanese anime characters. One of them is Akihiko Kondo. She is so popular in Japan that even a man chooses “marriage” with her. I believe virtual characters/influencers, similar to most new things, always have both pros and cons, and it is fully dependent on how we view it.

  4. shaneriley88 · ·

    Very insightful post! This falls in the “weird tech spectrum” for me. I’ve been trying to condition myself to view social media (excluding WordPress and Twitter!) as a vice. The COVID pandemic has been a crash course reminder of social media’s grip on our lives. I remember a few years back when Pokémon Go! took off. It was hilarious to see people standing in the middle of a parking lot or a field staring at their phones. Bot influencers, albeit spooky to me, seem like reliable business decisions and part of the future for years to come.

    Time to unplug and go outside for a jog. But first, I need to find my phone

  5. alexcarey94 · ·

    This is a great post! The thing I wonder about is today many influencers are trying to show a less perfect side of themselves so others are more able to relate to them. I think the relatability often builds trust in consumers that sways them to trust a review of a new product and purchase. I wonder if this concept will inhibit the growth of widespread virtual influencers. Also in the future will brands need to tell you an influencers is not real? I think this should be the case but also who knows- with the stat about the amount of fake accounts it often makes me wonder…

  6. williammooremba · ·

    This reminded me of a new phenomenon I am learning about called Virtual Youtubers or VTubers. They are a bit different as there are people behind the content creators. They just use a virtual avatar instead of having themselves appear in person on camera. From my perspective I think of any influencer or content creator as a kind of character anyway. They choose what they share so it is a very curated version of who they are as a person. I think this makes the distinction more explicit. Virtual avatars also allow for privacy which might not be available for traditional internet stars. On a related note, I have also seen some content creators who are sort of audio only stars. They only ever have their voice or avatar on content, never themselves. The Youtubers Dream and Corpse Husband come to mind.

    Article on Vtubers for those interested: https://dotesports.com/streaming/news/what-is-a-vtuber

  7. Chuyong Liu · ·

    Love this post, Jie. I personally have been through a teenage period where I Photoshop my pictures too much just to earn more likes on social media! I still do it sometimes today.

    I found it very hard to reject the lure of feeling envious of influencers and doubt myself. Even though I clearly know that they are only picking the best highlight moment of their life to show to others. And now after reading your post, I understand that it may not even be the moment of a real-life!

    My experience as a teenager reminded me that there are many other 16-year-olds that could be influenced negatively by fake pieces of information. I think it would be interesting to find out how people’s career choice, education choice, spending habit has been influenced by social media influencers.

  8. AndraeAllen · ·

    Great post. It was extremely well written. Especially since I am currently writing a blog based on AI-generated news articles. For me, the most interesting aspect of Lil Miquela is that presumably most people know this is not a real person, yet they continue to follow the personality. Conversely, I’m concerned about the group of people who do not know that Lil Miquela is fake. This has me worried about how gullible these people are and to what extent are they ready to embody the words of fictional character.

  9. kellywwbcedu · ·

    One of my favorite exchanges I hear in society is when one person says, “Where did you hear that?” and the other replies, “The internet.” And this article does a great job explaining that exchange. With today’s technology you really must question everything you see on the internet. I honestly don’t even blame companies/social influencers for fabricating these lives. They have found a technique that generates revenue, and to that I say job well done!

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