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Miquela Sousa and the rise of fake influencers

  • 10 July 2018


The internet is rife with theories about the identity of Miquela Sousa. Some say the computer generated 'it-girl', better known as Lil Miquela, is the alter-ego of another recording artist, a marketing strategy, or simply a piece of digital performance art. Her creators are keeping us in the dark — with 1.2 million Instagram followers at stake, they want to sustain the mystery.

But the more interesting question is not who Miquela is, but why she matters. Because Miquela holds up a mirror to how we construct our own online personas. Whether you're conscious of it or not, you're doing it too.

On the face of it, Miquela is the same as any other 'influencer': somebody who influences our behaviour, most commonly what we buy or how we think about brands. But behind her tiny normcore sunglasses, Miquela is dead. Orchestrating her content is Brud, an LA-based tech startup masterminded by Sara DeCou and Trevor McDefries.

Brud has succeeded in creating a character who isn't just realistic, she's also relatable. Miquela tells her followers when she's promoting her music and fashion projects, but also when she's hung over, stressed out, or feelin' herself. She parties at Coachella, was stoked to meet Nile Rogers, and got inked by celebrity tattoo artist Dr Woo.

She's campaigned for Black Lives Matter, positioned herself as a trans rights ally, and even interacts with her followers via direct messages, G-Chat and email, which is more than most high-profile internet folk do. She tells us what she is wearing, doing, and thinking. Or at least, the version of these things that she wants us to know. Just like the rest of us.

Social media reflects a curated, aspirational version of our lives, the outward image we want to project to others. The extent to which this actually relates to reality varies from person to person. As Miquela herself mused during an interview with YouTuber Shane Dawson, 'Can you name one person on Instagram who doesn't edit their photos?'

In the case of influencers, this is amplified: after all, it's their job to lead an enviable life at all times. If somebody you follow posts a photo of themselves sprawled on the beach of a faraway holiday destination, or hitting brunch with their best gal pals, or taking a political stand, we believe them, right? But what evidence do we have that any of these things are really happening offline?


"Given Miquela's success, the