With the rise of digital avatars, and indeed, fully digital characters which have themselves evolved into real influencers on social media, online platforms now have an obligation to establish clear labels of what is real and what is not, and how such creations can be used in their applications.
The impending shift of the metaverse will further complicate this, with an increase in virtual representations that blur the boundaries of what will be allowed, in terms of representation. But with many virtual influencers already working, Meta is now working to establish ethical boundaries for their application.
As Meta explains:
“From synthesized versions of real people to completely fictional “virtual influencers” (VI), synthetic media is a rising phenomenon. Meta platforms are home to more than 200 VIs, with 30 verified VI accounts hosted on Instagram. These VIs boast a huge following, collaborate with some of the world’s biggest brands, raise funds for organizations like the WHO, and advocate for social goals like the Black Lives Matter. ”
Some of the more famous examples in this regard are Shudu, who has more than 200,000 followers on Instagram, and Lil ‘Miquela, who has an audience of over 3 million in the app.
At first glance, you would not necessarily understand that this is not a real person, which makes such characters a great tool for brand and product promotion, because they can be used 24/7 and can be placed in any environment. But it also raises concerns about body image perception, deep-seated lies, and other forms of abuse through false or obscure representations.
Deepfakes, in particular, can be problematic, with Meta citing this campaign, with English football star David Beckham as an example of how new technologies are evolving to expand the use of language, as one element, for different purposes.
The well-known ‘DeepTomCruise’ account on TikTok is another example of how far these technologies have come, and it’s not hard to imagine a scenario in which they could be used to, say, show a politician saying or doing something he or she doesn’t. could have significant real-world impacts.
That’s why Meta is working with developers and experts to establish clearer boundaries for such uses – because while there is potential for harm, there are also beneficial uses for such displays.
“Imagine personalized video messages addressed to individual followers by name. Or ambassadors of famous brands who appear as sellers in local car dealerships. A famous athlete would be a great teacher for a kid who loves sports but hates algebra.”
Such use cases will increasingly become the norm as VR and AR technologies evolve, with these platforms placing digital signs in front and in the center, and establishing new standards for digital connectivity.
It would be better to know what is real and what is not, and as such, Meta needs clear regulations to remove unfair representations and impose transparency in the use of VI.
But then again, a lot of what you see on Instagram these days isn’t real, with filters and editing tools that change people’s looks far beyond what’s normal or realistic. This can also have detrimental consequences, and while Meta wants to implement rules on the use of VI, there is likely to be a case for similar transparency in the editing tools that apply to both published videos and images.
This is a more complex element, especially since such tools also allow people to feel more comfortable in publishing, which undoubtedly increases their activity in the application. Would Meta be willing to focus more on this element if it could influence user engagement? The data on the impact of Instagram on people’s mental health is quite clear, and comparison is a key concern.
Should this also be under the same umbrella of increased digital transparency?
This does not seem to be included in the initial framework yet, but at some stage, this is another element that should be examined, especially given the detrimental effects that the use of social media can have on young women.
But no matter how you look at it, this is undoubtedly a growing element of concern and it is important that Meta builds protective fences and rules around the use of virtual influencers in their applications.
You can read more about Meta’s approach to virtual influencers here.
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