While we’ve all been debating fake news and social data breaches, there’s a new ‘fake’ in town that’s capturing the attention of the internet.
The phenomenon of virtual influencers is causing both confusion and controversy. Take Lil Miquela. Pushing 900k followers, she’s lighting up people’s feeds around the world – and she’s not even real…
So, who is she? Like most Insta-famous, Lil Miquela appears to have a picture-perfect lifestyle. She wears designer clothes, hangs out at all the ‘to be seen’ places and shares regular snaps featuring her celeb pals. Vogue even went as far to dub her ‘Instagram’s new It Girl’. The only catch is that she’s computer-generated.
With a constant stream of comments trying to decode her morality, it appears that Lil Miquela is somewhat of a modern-day enigma, and a perplexing one at that. The fact that some don’t notice her fakeness highlights just how much we’ve become desensitised to high levels of filtering and curation on Instagram.
It’s commonplace, especially within specific passion points like fashion. Even those that are savvy to her virtual nature, can’t seem to make sense of where the line between reality and fantasy exists. There’s over 2000 conspiracy theories on YouTube debating whether she is 1) based on a real person, 2) run by a real person or 3) created by a music label/brand for publicity.
Contrary to the online debate, Miquela isn’t the first virtual celebrity. Take Gorillaz for example, an entire band of animated characters created back in the 90’s. Despite the brand being past their height of fame, the life of one band member, Noodle, continues to play out on social media, much akin to Miquela’s.
More broadly, the creation of personas isn’t anything new. We’ve been crafting characters for people to aspire to for years – from popstars like Lady Gaga, to TV characters like Daenerys Targaryen. The difference is merely the medium in which they come to life and, arguably, the perceived separation between themselves and our reality.
Despite people being au fait with the fact that ‘real’ influencers only show the Director’s Cut of their lives; they still happily tune in for more. In this world, virtual influencers seem a small leap. A flawless computer-generated character is just another form of fantasy life to follow on Instagram. Whether ‘virtual’ or ‘real’, the moral dilemma continues to occur when users perceive these ‘crafted personas’ as an attainable reality, when they’re not.
Ethics aside, the clout of virtual influencers isn’t going unnoticed by brands. Take Shudu, the CGI model who recently rocketed to fame after featuring in a Fenty Beauty advert. Lil Miquela too, has been open about the revenue she makes from brand collaborations, the most recent being with Prada to promote their Fall 18 show.
Interestingly, of the handful of virtual influencers that have made their way into the headlines, Lil Miquela is the one name that remains on everyone’s lips. Her marked success is, counterintuitively, down to her realness.
What Miquela holds that others ‘virtuals’ don’t is a set of values and beliefs that she remains true too and others can identify with. She uses her platform as an activist, openly supporting movements such as Black Lives Matter and organisations like Black Girls Code. This depth of character is what allows Miquela to jump the tracks of the virtual world. Maybe she is real after all, just not human.
Whether you class her as a piece of art, a digital mannequin or virtual person, Lil Miquela is a modern-day subversion akin to Magritte’s ‘This is not a pipe’. She challenges us to consider the difference between representation and actuality. In turn, she has opened the door to a new form of digitally infused, weird and wonderful celebrity.