Computer-Generated Influencers: Can they Benefit Public Relations?

For two years Lil Miquela, a 19-year old model from California, existed on Instagram as a social media influencer with more than 1 million followers (Lil Miquela, Instagram, 2018)—that is, before she revealed in April that she is not human, but actually a computer-generated image or “virtual” person. In a publicity stunt, another computer-generated woman named Bermuda supposedly took over Miquela’s account and outed her. Miquela wrote on Instagram that she is not human, but rather a robot (Yurieff, 2018).

Picture1

Posing with real people does make her look more human.
Photo from Lil Miquela Instagram https://www.instagram.com/lilmiquela/

The success of this CGI influencer begs the question—are these virtual personalities the next big thing in social media and technology? How will these computer-generated personalities impact business? How will they impact the public relations profession?

I think first and foremost that the creators of Miquela misled the public by not disclosing that she is computer generated. Sure, most of us could tell she’s not real, but from a public relations standpoint, my concerns with this are that it violated the professional code of ethics that holds us accountable for truth, honesty and transparency. I would have had to reveal up front that Miquela was a CGI. I think the story is interesting enough without misleading the public.

Miquela3

It’s possible she could be human in this photo.
Photo from Lil Miquela Instagram https://www.instagram.com/lilmiquela/

However, I do believe that this was a great marketing tool and creative way to showcase the talents of Brud, the company that is credited with creating Miquela along with her account hijacker Bermuda.

Brud created a personality so popular that even high-end clothing and apparel brands partnered with Miquela to promote their products. The concern is whether she was paid for those endorsements.

It presents a challenge to the public relations profession as noted in a Wired article (Katz, 2018) about who is responsible for disclosing that an influencer was paid. The Federal Trade Commission requires that influencers provide a highly visible hashtag such as #ad, #paid or #sponsored on their social media posts to disclose that they were paid for their endorsement. The Wired article poses the question that if the influencer is a robot who is responsible? I would argue the company who created the CGI. Also, was she a machine learning (AI) or was there a human posting for her?

Another concern with computer-generated influencers may include the question of copyright and celebrity rights. I’m sure we will have further discussions about the laws surrounding this topic.

CGI personalities can also benefit the public relations profession. We could use their popularity to build awareness, encourage people to donate to nonprofits and causes, act as influencers to encourage change or even serve as an online spokesperson. There are multitudes of positive uses.

Miquela2

She does look computer-generated in this photo.
Photo from Lil Miquela Instagram https://www.instagram.com/lilmiquela/

One final thought—if you think about it, Disney World (and Disneyland) may have started this evolution of AI decades ago in their theme parks with the introduction of animatronics. It is not on the scale of HBO’s Westworld or what we are seeing today with AI, but I do see a connection.

I’m interested to hear from other public relations professionals. How do you think AI and CGI influencers will impact PR?

References

Katz, M. (2018, May 1). CGI ‘Influencers’ Like Lil Miquela Are About to Flood Your Feeds. In http://www.Wired.com. Retrieved from https://www.wired.com/story/lil-miquela-digital-humans/

Lil Miquela. In Instagram. Retrieved July 24, 2018, from https://www.instagram.com/lilmiquela/

Yurieff, K. (2018, June 25). Instagram star isn’t what she seems. But brands are buying in. In Money.CNN.com. Retrieved from https://money.cnn.com/2018/06/25/technology/lil-miquela-social-media-influencer-cgi/index.html

Featured Photo Credit:  metamorworks/Shutterstock.com

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