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).

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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.

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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

Is True Journalism Dying a Slow Death? By: Edith Parten

In today’s rapidly changing digital world most anyone can write a story and post it to their social media account, blog or website and call themselves a journalist. We might drive by an accident and take a photo with our smartphones and post a 280-character blurb about what happened. Does this make us a journalist?

As I continue to study media and culture in my digital media class at Syracuse, we discussed citizen journalism in class this week. Citizen journalists are those who have no formal training in journalism but may have a blog to which they post news and stories. The advances in the internet and digital technology have made it extremely easy for the everyday citizen to become a journalist, but at what cost?

As we discussed in one of our earlier classes, the barrage of information on the internet and on social media sites has made it difficult at times to decipher fake news from real news. So, if anyone can put information out there in the digital sphere, who is there to check for facts and accuracy. Real journalists are bound by ethics to be objective, accurate and attribute their sources. If you couple the citizen journalism style stories that may not be factual with cutbacks in journalism and the big media corporations, with an eye on the bottom line, we are seeing a trend in the slow death of journalism.

Most companies today are more interested in the number of clicks on a story than on true journalism and more importantly, investigative journalism. I’m talking about the type of journalism that holds our elected officials accountable and empowers our society with facts and the understanding to be able to make informative decisions. Instead many of the media holders (big media corporations) are holding journalism hostage. These corporations are more interested in clicks on stories about cute puppies, kittens and what celebrities are doing on vacation than on the real stories that are important to and impact our daily lives. And because of this trend, more people are believing the fake news or stories created by citizen journalists who may not have our best interest or the best interest of our society at heart.

But as we discussed in our class, there is a glimmer of hope that in today’s digitally-saturated world true journalism, especially at newspapers, can be saved. I want to believe that this is true. What about you?

Chocolate, Wine, and Cuddling with Sheep: A Trip to New Zealand’s Countryside By: Edith Parten

I’ve been thinking about the upcoming holidays and ideas for Christmas stocking stuffers. Chocolate always makes for a great stocking stuffer, right? So I thought back to my trip to New Zealand and it brought back my chocolate tasting experience at a small cottage along the countryside…And I thought maybe I should share a little of my experience.

My favorite part about visiting New Zealand a few years back for the Society of American Travel Writers convention was the day-trip via train from Wellington to the small village of Greytown. It’s about an hour ride northeast of Wellington and has a population just over 2,000.

Yeah, sure there’s lots to see and do in Wellington including the “Lord of the Rings” tour, but visiting the countryside was relaxing…and it satisfied my wine and chocolate cravings.

GREYTOWN

After hopping off the train, we headed for downtown. Greytown’s Main Street is lined with Victorian style cottages, boutique shops, historic trees, cafes, quaint hotels and a unique chocolate shop. I can see why it’s been called “the prettiest town” on the North Island.

Visitors should stop by the Cobblestones Museum to discover the history of the town for the first stop. Due to time constraints I did not tour the museum. Gotta save time for the wine and chocolates.

NZ Pioneer House
Cobblestones Museum

SCHOC CHOCOLATES 

Not far from the museum sits my favorite place in Greytown…Schoc Chocolates. Step into this small-cottage shop to awaken your senses with smells of not only chocolate, but also saliva-inducing wafts of spices, flowers and mixtures of some 60+ flavors of hand-made chocolates that you would have never imagined…like the popular lime chili chocolate. It has a little kick to it, but it’s delicious. Hot chili flakes and lime are infused into the chocolate.

You will also find flavors like pink peppercorn, lemon and cracked pepper, strawberry and black pepper, sweet basil, geranium flowers, curry, lavender, and coffee with walnuts…just to name a few. And if that’s not enough, they also make chocolates infused with whiskey, rum, brandy, tequila, along with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines.

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These unique blends of chocolate are the creations of owner Murray Langham, who calls himself a Chocologist. He opened the store in 2002 and has since been devising the tasty chocolate creations from scratch using cocoa beans to make the base chocolate.

NZ Cocoa Beans
Cocoa beans used to make the base chocolate

Schoc Chocolates is a must-visit for any chocolate lover. You can order online, but you’ll pay about $37.00 (US) dollars for shipping…it’s well worth it.

WINE TASTING

We also visited a wine shop and tasted a variety of New Zealand wines from Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Riesling to Viognier, Syrah and Pinot Noir. Greytown is a must-stop on the wine trail.

KAHIKATEA GARDENS & FARM 

After a delicious sandwich at a local deli we hopped on a bus to drive to the countryside of Greytown to the Kahikatea Gardens where tour groups can pet and cuddle with the friendly farm animals, tour the gardens with fruit orchards and nut trees, or just relax. The garden and farm boasts native trees that are hundreds of years old. In fact, the farm is named after the 900 year-old Kahikatea tree in the garden.

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The gardens are filled with roses, azaleas, camellias (Alabama’s State Flower), walnut, hazel and chestnut trees, and lemon trees. You’ll see so many more flowers like lilies, hydrangeas and Kowhai depending on the season. Chutney and jams are made with the produce from the farm and are available for sale in the small onsite shop.

Visitors can get up close and personal with sheep, alpacas, donkeys and miniature horses. They are cute and hard to resist.

The gardens and tours are only available for groups and are $25 or $20 depending on the size of the group.

Planning a trip to New Zealand? Make sure you visit Greytown along the way. Who couldn’t use a little chocolate, wine and cuddling?

NZ Funny sign
Thought this sign was funny. Posted outside of White Swan Hotel in Greytown

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Haunted Tuscaloosa Tour By: Edith Parten

By Edith Parten

The faint cries of a baby heard across Greenwood Cemetery; a man falls to his death in his home; a deadly duel from the balcony of Woods Hall on the University of Alabama campus. These are just three of the many tales you’ll hear on the Haunted Tuscaloosa Tour.

I recently took the Haunted Tuscaloosa trolley tour that began at what is said to be one of the most haunted places in the city, the Drish House.

The Drish house, built in 1837, is a historic plantation house just off of Greensboro Ave. on 17th Street. It’s also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

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The Drish House

At night, the house looks spooky from the outside, but when you step inside it just appears to be an old house with a beautiful chandelier in the main room. The tour begins at the bottom of the staircase, the exact spot where Dr. John Drish met his demise.

The story goes…Dr. Drish fell to his death, reportedly intoxicated, from the second story to the bottom of the stairs inside the house. After her husband’s funeral, Sarah Drish saved the candles from the ceremony and requested that those same candles be used for her funeral; however, the candles could not be found at the time of Sarah’s death—her wish never fulfilled.

Drish House floor
Spot where Dr. Drish fell to his death

Maybe this is why the house is known for its story of phantom fire sightings. Some have reported seeing fires burning in the third story tower of the house—assuming that it’s Sarah’s ghost lighting the candles that were supposed to be used at her funeral.

I didn’t see any fires other than the candles lit for the tour. Our tour guide told us that over the years the house had been used as a wrecking company, a church and a school.

The house is also featured in Kathryn Tuck Windham’s “13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey.”

The house has been renovated and is now used for hosting events and weddings.

We hopped on a trolley that seats about 30 people. Our first stop was at Greenwood Cemetery, one of the oldest cemeteries in Tuscaloosa with the grave markers dating back to 1821.

Dr. Drish is buried in Greenwood Cemetery, but he’s not the only soul buried there. Confederate soldiers, some of the city’s important leaders and many children are buried here.

Greenwood Cemetery
Photo credit: Carol Highsmith

A cholera epidemic hit Tuscaloosa in the 1800s and many of the victims were children. Many of them are buried at Greenwood. One of the youngest victims, Abby Snow, died from the disease when she was just 10-months old. Some say you can hear her cries at night. Also, the ghost of 12-year-old Virginia Summers is said to play hide-and-seek in the cemetery. During the time of the Civil War the young girl was thrown from a pony and died after hitting her head on a cobblestone street.

After departing the cemetery, the tour took us to the University of Alabama campus where we visited Woods Quad, The Round House, the Mound, Gorgas House and the Gorgas Library—each said to be haunted with their own ghosts.

William W. Alston, for whom the University business school building is named, reportedly haunts Woods Hall. Legend has it that Alston and Kibble Harrison had an argument over their perspective fraternities, Sigma Chi and Delta Kappa Epsilon. The squabble ended with Harrison challenging Alston to a duel on the second floor of Woods Hall. With pistols in hand, the men counted their paces, turned and shot at each other. Alston was shot and fell over the second-story banister to his death. Alston’s bullet missed Harrison.

Haunted-Woods Hall2
Tour group listens to ghostly tale at Woods Hall

After the dueling story, we walked a short distance to the historic Gorgas House that was built in 1829—surviving the burning of campus during the Civil War. It is said that Josiah Gorgas, the seventh University of Alabama President, can be heard tapping his cane and walking across the wood floors and stairs.

Haunted _Gorgas House night
The Gorgas House at night

We then stopped by the Little Round House, a round white structure that was originally built as a guardhouse and was once home for the drum corps. Friendly cadets purportedly haunt it.

The last stop was the Amelia Gayle Gorgas Library, named after the matron and librarian of the University. Most paranormal reports focus on the fourth floor of the library where many students claim to have heard things moving around. Some have witnessed books flying from the shelves. It is believed that Amelia Gorgas herself haunts the library, but we are told she is a friendly ghost.

Our tour headed back to the Drish House where it ended. The entire tour was about 90 minutes and was worth the stories; however, we did not get to go inside any of the buildings on campus. But you can go back on your own time during the day to visit the buildings on campus. The Gorgas House offers tours of the house during the week.

You can also visit other reportedly haunted sites on campus that the tour did not show us, such as Smith Hall that houses the Alabama Museum of Natural History.

If you want to take the tour next October be sure to visit http://www.hauntedtuscaloosatours.com.

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Me and My Shadow?

It’s nearly October and time to think about some haunted history and ghost stories. I pulled a skeleton (story) out of my closet that just might make the hair on your arms stand up on ends. On a past press trip to Foley, Alabama, myself along with ten travel writers took a tour of the Holmes Medical Museum. And the rest is, well, history.

During the trip to the small charming town, something unexplainable happened.  Look closely at the photos and what appears to be a shadowy figure next to me. Was it some sort of energy? A ghost?

The museum is housed in a former hospital that was built in the 1930’s and closed sometime during the 1960’s. Many babies were birthed in the hospital, in fact, the docent giving the tour was born in the hospital. Doctors also performed surgery and took care of whatever ailed the townspeople. The equipment looks medieval compared to today’s standards.

As I was walked up the stairs to the second floor of the hospital, I began to feel a little uneasy. It was dark, the stairs creaked, and the antiquated medical items on display made me feel a bit nervous. I eyed long needles sitting next to a needle sharpener. They didn’t have disposable needles in those days, so they used the same needle over and over while sharpening it from time to time.

When I walked into a second-floor room filled with antique medicine bottles on display, my eyes caught the site of a skeleton hanging at the far corner. A professional photographer on the trip, Patrice Raplee, asked me to stand next to the skeleton to have my photo taken. As I neared the skeleton it appeared to be R-E-A-L! Yikes! Afterwards, the docent said it was a real human skeleton. I let out a shriek once I saw up close that this was not one of the plaster ones from our childhood teachings of the human body.

Before I go on, keep in mind that this was a cloudy day.  There was only one window at the opposite corner of an approx. 200 square foot room, no other people were in the room, no shadows to cast, and no flash was used. Patrice had a long lens on her camera (about 10 inches). I leaned in toward the skeleton to make it appear that I was touching it when in actuality I was slightly behind it.

I posed smiling while Patrice snapped my photo letting out a gasp, “OH MY!” I asked what was wrong. She said, “I’ll show you in a minute …let me take another photo.” She snapped another photo immediately. Then others began coming into the room to find out what happened. Upon showing me the first photo I too gasped! Yikes! I could not believe my eyes. The photo showed me standing next to the skeleton, and appearing in front of me was a black, wispy, transparent, apparition (for lack of a better description). It looks like a person standing with their arms in the air. No, this was not Patrice’s hand or fingers. She was holding a long telephoto lens and I saw her take the photo.

So I leave it to your eyes. View the photos, the first with the black, transparent figure in the dark corner compared to the photo taken immediately after. Keep in mind there was nothing to cast shadows, no flash, no one else standing in the room.

Skeleton Holems Medical Museum photo2
Photos by © Patrice Raplee – Second photo
Skeleton at Medical Museum- 2
Photos by © Patrice Raplee – Second photo

Upon her return to Seattle, Patrice took the photos to the University of Washington to show it to a few professionals. She explained to me that the consensus among the professionals was that the shadowy figure had nothing to do with the camera and it could not be explained.

The museum’s docent had told us  that other visitors have reported seeing apparitions and hearing strange moans. And she left it at that.

So I ask, does the Medical Museum in Foley have ghosts? You may have to visit to see for yourself.

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