Presence misstep: CGI Influencer Lil Miquela claims she was sexually assaulted

[This informal, frank, first-person story illustrates how those who create presence with perceptually and socially realistic digital characters can inadvertently ‘break’ the experience and create user backlash. It’s from betches, where it includes a different image and embedded tweets; for more details and reactions see Paper and PinkNews. –Matthew]

[Image: Source: PinkNews]

This CGI Influencer Claimed She Was Sexually Assaulted, And Just No

By Dylan Hafer
December 17, 2019

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.

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.

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?

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!

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.


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