- Online safety campaigners Internet Matters have released advice to parents about CGI influencers.
- The group is concerned that CGI characters like Miquela, Bermuda, and Blawko are being used to manipulate a young audience into buying things.
- There are also worries about the messages CGI influencers can spread, and how their power may be harnessed.
- Marie Mostad, the COO, and co-founder of inzpire.me, told Insider it’s dangerous that children are struggling to separate fact from fiction in an increasingly digital world.
- “For a long time, legislation has struggled to keep up with technological advances, but this is definitely changing,” she said. “Society is beginning to wake up to the importance that transparency and ethical practice play in the development of digital experiences, and this is no exception.”
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Online safety campaign group Internet Matters has published advice for parents amid the current rise of fake, computer-generated characters.
The concern is that CGI influencers, like Miquela, Bermuda, and Blawko, show a “picture perfect” life, and could be used by marketing companies to exploit a young audience. Some of these accounts have hundreds of thousands of followers. Miquela’s Instagram, for example, has 1.7 million.
The group also cites a 2015 study from the Toyohashi University of Technology, which showed how humans can empathize with robots like they do humans, and express worry that companies and brands could manipulate the perceived relationship between followers and CGI characters to make sales. Miquela, Bermuda, and Blawko, which were all created by a secretive company called Brud, have advertised many brands including Glossier, Starbucks, and Spotify.
Celebrity Culture: Some characters blur the lines of reality
There’s also a concern about the messages CGI influencers might spread. There is an air of mystery around many of them, which means it’s uncertain what they’re going to be used for — merch sellers, brand avatars, or even political tools.
In a previous article for Insider, CGI designer Cameron-James Wilson said he tries to be as transparent as possible when it comes to his virtual models, which include a popular character called Shudu. He told Insider he thinks it is “quite frightening” that technology has reached a point where people can’t discern whether a CGI model is real or not, so he never blurs the lines to pretend Shudu is a real person.
Other CGI characters like Miquela, Bermuda, and Blawko, are less clear about who and what they are. They call themselves “robots” but also wear real clothes, make music, and “hang out” with real celebrities and influencers.
In the background there are visible pop culture and political references, like “abolish ICE” and “Paris Is Burning” posters. Bermuda started life as a MAGA hat-wearing Trump supporter, although that identity has now been dropped since she and Miquela became “friends.”
In the comments, some fans speak to these characters as though they are real.
Marie Mostad, the COO, and co-founder of inzpire.me, told Insider it’s dangerous that children are struggling to separate fact from fiction in an increasingly digital world.
“What’s more, young children tend to be far less skeptical than adults making them more susceptible to these dangers,” she said. “As such, within school and at home, we should begin educating children on how to spot bots, explaining how they are made and removing some of the ‘magic and mystery’ that surrounds them.”
Internet Matters ambassador and psychologist Linda Papadopoulos said parents should talk to their children about virtual influencers, and get them to think critically about what they are seeing.
Carolyn Bunting, the CEO of Internet Matters, added that it’s essential parents have regular conversations with their children about what they’re viewing online. CGI influencers are a current growing trend, but next week there could be something else.
Celebrity Culture: The responsibility will always lie with the influencers’ creators
Mostad said responsibility also lies with those who create CGI influencers, and she believes digital platforms will soon develop a way to mark them out as different to real people.
“For a long time, legislation has struggled to keep up with technological advances, but this is definitely changing,” she said. “Society is beginning to wake up to the importance that transparency and ethical practice play in the development of digital experiences, and this is no exception.”
There may be some catching up to do in terms of understanding the place CGI influencers have in the marketing world, but Mostad believes it might be a short-lived gimmick anyway. She said people usually want to follow authentic influencers, while CGI characters are almost “too perfect.” In the end, being fabricated by a tech company might be their downfall.
Mostad also thinks companies won’t be able to hide behind loopholes forever.
“The one good thing about these influencers being manufactured is that there will always be a person or a group of people behind the CGI,” she said. “Thus the responsibility will forever lie with an actual person to ensure that rules and regulations are being adhered to.”