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Artificial Influencers and their Impact on the News

18 Jan 2023
   —  by Frank De Maria

The rise of the virtual (or artificial) influencer is a trend that will take the often-manipulative effects of social media to another level. Artificial influencers are computer-generated characters designed to mimic real people and interact on social media platforms. These digital personas are typically depicted as attractive, confident, and relatable to your personality, background, and interests. They are often used to promote products or services, and many have amassed large followers on platforms such as Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter. These robots can engage at scale across multiple platforms, garnering high engagement, which will have more than caught the interest of brand marketers.

Given how realistic these influencers are, it is no surprise that many manage to assemble millions of followers. The most popular is @Lilmiquela on Instagram, which has nearly 3 million followers.

Lil Miquela has gained notoriety from news media, adding to the perception of legitimacy. In 2018, she was named one of Time Magazine’s 25 most influential people on the internet. She has also modeled for iconic fashion brand Prada, taking over their Instagram and its more than 31 million followers.

One of the key advantages of artificial influencers is that they can be created and controlled by a single entity, such as a brand or marketing agency. This allows for a high degree of control over the content and messaging being promoted and the ability to target specific audiences. UK department store chain Marks and Spencer have their own virtual influencer, Mira, used to promote their clothing collections. 54% of the company’s customers are over 50, but they are trying to appeal to younger shoppers. As artificial intelligence (AI) becomes increasingly sophisticated, brands will seize the opportunity to engage more effectively with large numbers of consumers.

The impact in the retail and consumer space is obvious, but this trend’s effect on how we’re influenced by news and political voices could be devastating.

AI is already being used in journalism to help produce, create, and edit content, and it won’t be long before artificial journalists create and report the news. For example, the BBC developed a synthetic voice that can read the news. According to their website, they use AI to convert text articles into speech, ‘reading’ them aloud with a synthetic voice.  The BBC worked with Microsoft to create the new voice and AI software, using deep neural networks to create a synthetic voice with a natural tone and clear articulation of words.

The Chinese news agency Xinhua, together with the Chinese search engine Sogou, created several virtual news anchors that can deliver news to English-speaking audiences or Chinese audiences using Sogou’s search technology to create compelling general news content delivered by an appealing artificial presenter.

There is a glut of bots and automation on social media designed to affect opinion and behavior. Still, we have not yet seen the Lil Miquela equivalent in the corporate and financial news space – although sometimes, when watching Bloomberg, it can feel entirely artificial.

What will this mean for PR and reputation management, where news flow and communication risks are highly impactful? What happens if a “trusted” artificial news influencer reports inaccurate information that influences markets or calls into question the viability of a board or its management?  Our view is that the risk of manipulation exists, so it is incumbent on business leaders to pay close attention to what is being said about their company and be prepared to set the record straight. Is there an equivalent to Lil Miquela talking about your organization on social media right now?

As AI improves and gains traction, the temptation is to conclude that humans are being removed from the loop completely – a scary notion, but it can also improve efficiency by eliminating time-consuming tasks allowing for more high-value work to be created.

An essential part of risk and reputation management for any organization is tracking all the influential voices (including artificial ones). Here at Social360, we have built robust databases of influencers across all sectors, geographies, and topics; we use AI and machine learning to enable our HUMAN analyst team to focus on creating high-value analysis and data for our clients.  If you need help or have questions, please contact Alex Baker or Giles Brown or visit our website – www.s360group.com – for more information.

Frank De Maria