Why We Should Not Worry About the Rise of Digital Influencers
Thu, 27 Dec 2018 || By Sri Handayani Nasution

A digital influencer is not just an ordinary public figure. They do not breathe, they do not need food, and most importantly they are not human. Nonetheless, they have most characteristics humans possess. Take Miquela (or @lilmiquela on Instagram), a social media living robot who practically has a functional social life and endorses big brands.[1] Just as another advancement of technology Miquela and her robot friends, Shudu Gram who endorse Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty lipstick[2] or Erica who endorses Gucci in China[3], spark a traditional debate about whether or not we still need human influencer to endorse our brands. The traditional concern of how robot and technology will replace human in the future grow and haunt the society. I aim to show you that rather than imposing threats to human’s position, the rise of digital influencer will open up more opportunities in the future.

The phenomenon of digital influencer is not a brand-new invention, for instance, Hatsune Miku. Hatsune Miku is a program which is designed to help people create a synthetic voice and write songs. It has long existed in Japan since 2007.[4] I argue that digital influencer serves for a segmented and specific fanbase. In the case of Hatsune Miku whose program adopts a crowdsourcing model, it lets people generate their songs and images of Hatsune Miku which blows her popularity not only in Japan but also worldwide.[5] However, her existence does not pose any harm to the conventional singers in Japan. Instead, her growing fanbase opens up economic opportunity for both the company and her fan base, which also generates profit out of the songs and fan-merchandise they produce.[6]

Perhaps Miquela’s portrayal as a human being who has a personality and even political ideology is the distinguishing characteristic between her and Hatsune Miku. Yet the nature of segmented and specific fanbase and fan persists in the case of Miquela. While probably Miquela does not adopt crowdsourcing model as the synthetic voice program, Miquela attracts the public with her human-like appearances and life. Miquela and her friends might perhaps open a new CGI-based agency where the demand for specific skills are required (for instance motion graphic artist).  As of how Hatsune Miku has grown, Miquela and other digital influencers will create more economic opportunity for the creative forces who wish to develop different online personas.

Miquela and other digital influencers have their personality and political ideology.[7] However, currently, all these personality traits are developed and designed by their creators. It is clear that the one who is responsible for their behaviours online is the company that creates them. However, it is not impossible that soon digital influencer will have their independent thought with the growing trend of Artificial Intelligence. It is more interesting for the future debate to discuss more of the time where Miquela and others have their capability to generate their thoughts, interests, or even political statements rather than focusing too much on the debate of them replacing humans. Second of all, a digital influencer is created as an online persona and not as a person. Being seen as a commodity, virtual ‘celebrity' (like Hatsune Miku for instance) serve as the subjective projection of their human creators' ideas.[8] Being made with the appearance of a woman, Hatsune Miku suffers from a gendered stereotype of femininity to fulfil the desire of its user.[9] Miquela and others have the same risks of being objectified or projected with our harmful ideas of femininity. Shortly where they finally have their cognitive ability, should we regulate the protection of these digital influencers upon this matter? Should we prevent the objectification of a being whose existence is an object in the very first time?

Editor: Anisa Pratita Mantovani

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[1] Fowler, D. (2018). The fascinating world of Instagram’s ‘virtual’ celebrities. [online] Bbc.com. Available at: http://www.bbc.com/capital/story/20180402-the-fascinating-world-of-instagrams-virtual-celebrities [Accessed 22 Dec. 2018].

[2] Nolan, H. and Nolan, H. (2018). Brands Are Creating Virtual Influencers, Which Could Make the Kardashians a Thing of the Past. [online] Adweek.com. Available at: https://www.adweek.com/brand-marketing/brands-are-creating-virtual-influencers-which-could-make-the-kardashians-a-thing-of-the-past/ [Accessed 20 Dec. 2018].

[3] Pan, Y. (2018). Are Virtual Influencers Coming to China’s Luxury Market? | Jing Daily. [online] Jing Daily. Available at: https://jingdaily.com/virtual-influencers/ [Accessed 20 Dec. 2018].

[4] Le, L. K. (2013). Examining the Rise of Hatsune Miku: The First International Virtual Idol. The UCI Undergraduate Research Journal, 1-12.

[5] Jørgensen, S., Vitting-Seerup, S. and Wallevik, K. (2017). Hatsune Miku: an uncertain image. Digital Creativity, 28(4), pp.318-331.

[6] ibid

[7] Fowler, D.

[8] Lam, K. (2016). The Hatsune Miku Phenomenon: More Than a Virtual J-Pop Diva. The Journal of Popular Culture, 49(5), p.1115.

[9] Lam, K. P.1118