Of all the bizarre trends and pop culture moments we’ve been through in 2019, none felt quite as strange as the rise of the CGI influencer. Back in the summer, I unpacked who these “people” are, what kind of content they’re creating, and why they might exist in the first place. In the wild world of CGI influencers, there’s no doubt that the queen is Lil Miquela. She has 1.8 million followers on Instagram, has successfully released music, and has raked in money through brand collabs and sponsored content. Overall, Lil Miquela’s (fake) life seemed pretty great, until last week, when she posted a video claiming that she had been sexually assaulted.
I know, what the f*ck? When I first heard about this, my first thought was “this can’t be good,” and well, it’s not good. The YouTube video has caused a great deal of controversy online, and called into question the whole concept of what Lil Miquela is. Her YouTube video has since been deleted, but thankfully it’s been preserved on Twitter for all eternity. You should definitely watch it to get the full effect, but be warned, it’s incredibly weird, and potentially triggering.
I have so many questions… pic.twitter.com/6Jfv7itPFo
— Green Chyna (@CORNYASSBITCH) December 12, 2019
Okay. Yeah. Where to start? The first thing that hit me about this video was how real it feels. Whoever put this together, they did an excellent job emulating the exact content that’s all over YouTube in 2019. From the storytelling style, to the mannerisms, to the images popping up, this is classic YouTube content. Whoever wrote the script (because remember, all of this is fake, so there must have been a script) added minute details, like what the car smelled like and that Dua Lipa was playing on the radio, all to suck you in to the story. The people behind this video did their homework, and every added detail makes the end result more unsettling.
It’s like whoever is behind this character obviously went through so much to make her as relatable as possibly. They’ve even studied YT videos enough to see what kind of editing is popular RN. They were like “to make her more realistic, let’s pretend she was sexually assaulted”.
— juan thee hedgehog (@TruePlantDad) December 13, 2019
Even if you know Lil Miquela is not real, she’s still telling this story as if she exists in the real world, and it almost makes you forget that she doesn’t. To me, that’s what makes this different from when a TV show or a movie deals with sexual assault. With a movie, you know what you’re watching is fictional. But what makes Lil Miquela so interesting in the first place is that she toes the line between what’s real and what’s not. That’s okay, and sort of fun, when she’s hanging at the beach or being photoshopped onto the AMAs red carpet, but when she discusses a serious issue like sexual assault, it feels like her creators are taking advantage of the audience.
As another Twitter user put it: “ABSOLUTELY F*CKING NOT.” Because the original YouTube video has been taken down, we don’t know what the original video title or description were, so it’s hard to even know what the intent of the video was. But I can use my brain and guess that the creators were looking to stir up some controversy, and that’s not okay. In the past few years, our society has come a long way in addressing sexual assault and misconduct as a serious issue, and Lil Miquela’s creators mining this issue for content feels really irresponsible. Something as serious, personal, and traumatic as sexual assault should never be exploited as a marketing tool to do anything other than raise sincere awareness for the issue and how to fight it. Fabricating an allegation of assault to drive traffic to a glorified Sim with unclear motives just ain’t it.
While this video would be f*cked up at any time, it feels especially gross in light of a recently released Uber safety report, which showed that over 3,000 riders reported sexual assaults last year. Did her creators hop on this issue to seem trendy? Because if so, ew. Like, if they wanted to make her seem more relevant or relatable, they could’ve picked basically any other current event to address. Real people were allegedly assaulted in Ubers, so to see a CGI “person” tell a fake first-person account of a traumatic event that probably actually happened to someone is weird and disturbing. It would be one thing if Miquela had a track record of speaking out about societal issues, or using her platform for activism, but this video truly came out of nowhere. Because of this, it comes across as a desperate attempt to make her feel more relatable, and ultimately more real. All to what end?
Absolutely fucking not. ABSOLUTELY FUCKING NOT. A virtual project telling me some story of an unreal sexual assault pisses me off just as much as when women lie. It's a fabrication. A dangerous one. There are ways to make @lilmiquela relatable. This isn't one of them. https://t.co/zFPdXjTgzW
— Anna Davenport (@disturbance_atd) December 13, 2019
While we still don’t ultimately know exactly who all is behind Lil Miquela, and who benefits from her success, they clearly want her to seem as real as possible. This kind of project thrives on the mystery of what’s real and what’s not, and if I had just stumbled across this video with no context, I would definitely be confused, and would probably end up stalking her on Instagram while avoiding all my responsibilities. See, their plan is working!
Lil Miquela https://t.co/TrbxL8POGK
— sammi 🎄 (@badbadbis) December 17, 2019
Whether you’re a dedicated Lil Miquela follower, or this is the first time you’ve thought about her since my last article, we can probably all agree that this whole thing feels like something out of a Black Mirror episode, and not one of the cute ones where two people are in love. At the end of the day, Lil Miquela is funded by venture capital firms and financial groups, which means that everything she does is part of some scheme to make money. I don’t know what the endgame is here, but if making up stories about sexual assault is part of it, I’ll pass.
Images: lilmiquela / Instagram; cornyassbitch, trueplantdad, disturbance_atd, badbadbis / Twitter
At this point, we all know about influencers. Whether you follow them religiously or think they’re total jokes, it’s no longer a novel idea that fashion bloggers and generic hot people are making a living off of Instagram. At this point, the influencer market is honestly pretty saturated, because we can only have so many people getting paid to shill their FabFitFun boxes. So if there isn’t room for any more actual influencers, where do we go next? Why not make fake influencers? Apparently someone already thought of this, because there are actually a surprising number of CGI influencers. Yup, it’s an actual thing. Who are these “people,” and just like, why? Let’s unpack.
In this bizarre corner of the Instagram community, the queen of the CGI influencers is undoubtedly Lil Miquela. Miquela is based in LA (just go with it—it’s easier not to ask questions), and has been on Instagram since 2016. I don’t know if she was officially the first of her kind, but she definitely got in the game early. She’s easily recognizable by her freckles, Princess Leia hairstyle, and the fact that she’s um…not real. Miquela has 1.6 million followers on Insta, which is probably a sign that we should all just give up now.
View this post on Instagram
Not even going to try to spout some fake body positivity influencer BS bc I’m skinny and ethnically ambiguous sooo it’s not like this thirst trap is groundbreaking but enjoy these lil robot tiddies ?? Also I’m shooting something so special today but I can’t say what it's for yet ~ head to my story for clues ??
Miquela may be popular on Instagram, but she also works hard. She has half a dozen singles on Spotify, which are actually complete bops, and she also is involved with a clothing company called Club 404. For someone who literally doesn’t exist, she stays busy.
If you’re still confused about why the f*ck this is even a thing and how it happened, it’s understandable. At first, no one knew who was behind Miquela, and initially people weren’t actually sure if she was real and just heavily edited her photos, or if she was a bot. Now we know that Miquela is run by an LA-based startup called Brud. The company was founded by Trevor McFedries, and has now raised millions of dollars in capital from investors. Brud has carefully cultivated a world of these CGI influencers and personalities to get millions of people watching.
Last year, Miquela’s Instagram was apparently hacked by another CGI persona named Bermuda, and McFedries initially blamed the incident on “some Redditor idiot,” but it turned out that he was just playing into an elaborate scheme. Bermuda is another Brud creation, and they faked a “hack” on Miquela’s page to generate media coverage. It worked. At the time, one Brud investor acknowledged that the company was “using conflict to introduce new characters…same as the Kardashians always have.” This might sound stupid at first, but it’s also a TV show I would definitely watch.
After the “hack,” Miquela and Bermuda are now friends, and they’re no longer alone in their CGI version of Los Angeles. Brud has also introduced another character named Blawko, and both he and Bermuda have over 100,000 followers now.
I don’t know what Brud’s end-game is, but I have a feeling with millions of dollars from Silicon Valley investment funds, they’re planning something bigger than a bunch of imaginary people wearing trendy sunglasses on Instagram. First Miquela, then world domination? Honestly, I’m ready for our society to be run by CGI influencers, who even cares anymore?
While Brud is definitely the most dominant force in the world of CGI influencers, they’re not the only ones in the game. Knox Frost, who is a 19-year-old living in Atlanta (again, bear with me), is another CGI personality who’s cultivated a following of over 600,000 people since launching his account earlier this year. Honestly, I’m concerned for my personal well-being, because Knox is kind of hot. Brb, deleting all social media and going to live on a desert island.
Knox’s CGI is a little less realistic than the Brud crew, and his background is also more mysterious. No company has taken ownership of Knox Frost like with Miquela, so we still don’t know who’s behind his page. There’s also this hilarious Reddit thread of someone asking if he’s a real person, to which someone responded that he looks like a character from an NBA video game. Honestly, true.
Knox’s captions are also a lot to get into, as a lot of them are lengthy, brooding messages about life. He also has an email newsletter for updates about his “life”, which I haven’t signed up for because I don’t need to get any more emails that I’m just going to delete without opening.
I mean, that caption is honestly a nightmare. Less is more, and Knox Frost is doing THE MOST. To be honest, Miquela and Co. are much more my style than Knox, but I respect whatever hustle has gotten him to 600k followers.
So I guess now you probably understand more about what CGI influencers are, but I’ll be honest, I’m still a little lost when it comes to the why. With a major account like Miquela, the creators have obviously been able to profit off of side projects like the music and the clothing company, but it’s a lot less clear what the goals behind someone like Knox Frost are. In most cases, the people who run these accounts are probably just trying to build up more of a following before pivoting to something that is going to rake in the cash.
No matter how stupid you think CGI influencers are (and, admittedly, they are pretty stupid), they’re probably not going anywhere. Anytime one person is able to build a huge following and profit off of something, you know lots of other people are going to hop on the bandwagon. Granted, to run a CGI influencer’s page, you have to have someone who knows how to do CGI, so that’s probably why there are still only a handful of these popular accounts. But I’m sure there are at least a few more animators and graphic designers who are going to throw their hats in the ring of CGI influencers sooner or later.
Images: lilmiquela (2), blawko22, knoxfrost / Instagram