Computer Generated Influencers: How far is too far?

Over a million followers, a designer wardrobe and world-wide Instagram fame aren’t common for a 19-year-old. But Lil Miquela is a model from California and a CGI: a computer-generated image.

Created by Brud, an artificial intelligence (AI) startup, Lil Miquela’s posts highlight the latest fashions and the hottest events. She isn’t the only one of her kind though and others just like her can be seen promoting brands. Yes, it’s a sign of the times but it raises some pretty pertinent questions on ethics.

Mass deception or opportunity?

How ethical is this when virtual influencers aren’t able to trial the very products they’re selling? And should the public demand that big names come clean about using virtual influencers to punt their offerings? With no rulebook to govern the use of AI influencers, it’s a blurry line at best. The Federal Trade Commission does however suggest that influencers disclose whether or not they have been paid for a post with #ad or #sponsored. Brands should do the same or face fines if they default.

Although using computer generated influencers can be seen as problematic, surely sponsoring a human influencer to promote goods is just as misleading? This is food for thought when you consider that they’re being compensated for their opinions. It’s also worrying in a world where young people are so easily impacted by what they encounter online.

Why would brands consider it?

For starters it’s far easier to control the outcome. There’s less debate over captions, images and post frequency. Brands can also ensure that there are no damaging actions to tarnish their reputation when a human influencer drops the ball. The likes of Outdoor Voices and OUAI have already benefitted from Lil Miquela’s following and US giant Barneys are set to follow suit.

Are we losing our grip on what’s real?

From photo-editing apps that alter appearances to perfectly curated content on social media, it’s getting tougher to spot authenticity. Experimental or dishonest? You decide. Whilst it’s bound to be a while before we see it hit closer to home, we’ll be watching to see just how these virtual influencers shape our perception of some of the world’s biggest brands.

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