Late on 17th April, ‘Lil Miquela’ @lilmiquela, a virtual Instagram model, fashion influencer and activist made to promote multiculturalism, was hacked by ‘Bermuda’ @bermudaisbae, a seemingly pro-Trump virtual Instagram model promoting alt-right propaganda. And with what was about to become one of the first AI social media feuds, the alarming possibility that CGI influencers and political opinions could marry into a dystopic union, became suddenly apparent.
Lil Miquela is listed on Wikipedia as a Spanish-Brazilian American computer-generated model and music artist from Downey, California. The millennial icon has used her platform to support socially minded causes including Black Lives Matter, feminism, Muslim and refugee advocacy organisations, transgender rights, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), gun control, My Friend’s Place, Black Girls Code, Planned Parenthood, and protests of the Dakota Access Pipeline. And whilst some could be critical of the socio-political influencer for her trite dabbling in politics, we must admit ‘Bermuda’ is much, much worse.
Bermuda, whose bio reads “The earth isn’t getting hotter but I am”, is of a white reflection with blonde hair. The account posts anti-feminist, pro-Trump, Christian and alt-right promotions with ramblings such as “it’s OK to be white. I said it and I’m not afraid to say it: I am proud to be a white woman.#teamBermuda #BermudaHive #hotterinBermuda #Bermudatriangle #theNextStep #discourse #learntotalk”
As the speculation continued, it was then released that ‘Bermuda’ was run by Cain Intelligence, a Silicon Valley based Conscious Language Intelligence (CLI) company. “At Cain we’ve always strived to be leaders in a world overrun with followers. We’re passionate about creating a consumer-facing example of our Artificial Intelligence learnings.(…) We are proud to present Bermuda! Bermuda is the first of her kind. Built to speak her truth and to the interests of today’s youth, she is uniquely unapologetic, representing not only a breakthrough in artificial intelligence but also in modern political thought.” Read’s the website, which sits alongside a pro-Trump feature describing their endorsement for Donald Trump in 2016, as well as information on their CGI technologies, but no contact information.
“For me, it means saying what I want + being OK with people not liking me because of it….” says Bermuda. Her actions are seemingly reactionary to leftist strategies of shutting down discourse. In our current cultural climate, the alt-right is on the rise. In Kill All Normies: The Online Culture Wars from Tumblr and 4chan to the Alt-right and Trump by writer Angela Nagle, the internet and specifically spaces such as 4chan and Reddit is where the alt-right has flourished—through meme culture, offensive content ‘for the lulz’ has bred a huge amount of seemingly untouchable propaganda, because if you don’t like it it’s ‘just a joke’. It’s not a critical piece of text, it’s a meme—ipso facto. You’re the uncool one if you don’t ‘geddit’. And this is a act ‘Bermuda’ has engaged with, posting anti-feminist (specifically anti-Lena Dunham targeted) memes.
“Guys i’ve been hacked – it’s NOT me!!”
— Miquela (@lilmiquela) April 17, 2018
As the story unfolded, ‘Bermuda’ was threatening ‘Lil Miquela’ to ‘tell the truth’, with various countdown Instagram post’s, leaving viewers speculating what was happening, with comments such as ‘is is westworld?!”.
I couldn’t find anything on Reddit or 4chan about the feud, and by the following Wednesday they had ‘met’ and the truth was revealed, which inevitably was that Lil Miquela wasn’t real and rather a CGI Artificial Intelligence—the uncanny valley eliciting cold, eerie feelings in viewers. But this we already knew, and seemingly, Lil Miquela’s account has been flooded with personal anecdotes of her experience, and in turn, her realisation of her own CGI AI mechanisms.
“I am a robot. It just doesn’t sound right. I feel so human. I cry and I laugh and I dream. I fall in love. I’m trying to not let this mess me up but it is. I’m not in a good place. Im so upset and afraid…”
So here’s the Tea. Apparently, Lil Miquela was owned by Cain Intelligence (Daniel Cain), then Brud.fyi, a “group of Los Angeles based problem solvers specialising in robotics, artificial intelligence and their application to media businesses” stole her from Cain’s company in Silicon Valley in a bid to “free” her. Brud.fyi started the rumour that Lil Miquela may or may not be real for social media attention to garner financial opportunities and capital, working with other real Instagram celebrities, brands and so on. Cain Intelligence made Bermuda to hack Lil Miquela’s account and make her “tell the truth” about her mysterious identity. But there is another aspect at play here; a much more sinister, political leaning agenda. Beyond revealing the truth about the authenticity of the increasingly popular influencer, Bermuda’s hack became a ploy to express her pro-Trump, alt-right ideology to a majority left leaning following, whose algorhythms had most likely never touched on the accounts of those who share and promote Bermuda’s views. In many regards, this hack was about trying to glitch the otherwise concrete algorithms and infiltrate the accounts of hundreds of thousands with her rhetoric.
What this Sim-esque war and its creators has taught us is to realise the political implication of CGI/AI within digital cultures. But what we should really be pondering is what it would mean to suddenly find ourselves with a virtual leader? It is all very much a “Waldo moment” (see episode 3 of Black Mirror’s second season) in which a cartoon becomes the face of a political party. CGI/AI leaders are not just an alt-right issue but also an issue with the left and particularly—and perhaps more importantly—an issue with political discourse right now all together. With no history and no reality, comes no accountability. And that’s a terrifying prospect.
The Trump administration recently launched a campaign to support the global decriminalisation of homosexuality, spearheaded by openly-gay U.S. Ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell. That’s how it’s been framed, at least.
It was announced that Grenell would meet with eleven European activists in Berlin to coordinate a plan to eventually decriminalise homosexuality worldwide. 73 countries still have laws against same-sex relationships and sexual intercourse, particularly in Africa and the Middle East; several countries impose the death penalty for gay sex. It was reported that this new campaign was sparked by the recent execution of a gay man in Iran.
This isn’t an entirely new policy, however. The support of global LGBTQ rights was initiated under Hillary Clinton, during her tenure as Secretary of State. Deputy Spokesperson for the State Department, Robert Palladino, confirmed this when he was asked about Grenell’s ‘new’ campaign soon after the story broke: “It’s – this really is not a big policy departure. This is longstanding and it’s bipartisan.” Adding, “I would say that this is a good opportunity to listen and to discuss ideas about how the United States can advance decriminalization of homosexuality around the world, and that’s been our policy.” Yet, right-wing news outlets are already touting this as a progressive Trump initiative, arguing that he is following through on his empty campaign promise to be a pro-LGBTQ president.
What’s interesting about this story is Trump’s reaction to the news when it was brought up during a recent Q&A with reporters. When asked, “Mr. President, on your push to decriminalize homosexuality, are you doing that? And why?” the president had no answer: “I don’t know which report you’re talking about. We have many reports. Anybody else?”
This therefore seems like yet another example of Trump’s administration—rather than President Trump himself—doing something productive and progressive. In fact, his administration is managing to push for the support of LGBTQ rights despite Trump, rather than because of him, exploiting his lackadaisical and ignorant style of governance. Meanwhile, House Republicans are happy to placate him, despite this, fearing that otherwise they might lose the support of Trump’s core base. No doubt he’ll be happy to claim ownership of this move if it proves successful, or readily dismiss it entirely if he needs another liberal cause to throw under the bus in order to gain support amongst his base.
There’s also a problematic hypocrisy to this campaign and the right-wing media’s spin on it—specifically with regards to international LGBTQ rights. Many places that still criminalise homosexuality, particularly throughout Africa and the Caribbean, do so because of colonial-era laws exported by evangelical Christians. Activist Eliel Cruz explains this succinctly in a recent tweet: “This administration is focusing on decriminalization abroad while being chummy with the evangelical groups whose colonialist imported theology is the foundation for many country’s support of criminalization.” There’s a level of doublethink going on here. Trump wants to have his cake and eat it too. His administration wants to support international decriminalisation of homosexuality while supporting extreme Christian groups who advocate conversion therapy in the United States—a practice which is slowly, and thankfully, being outlawed state by state, while The Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act, which would ban the practice on a Federal level, has been introduced to Congress by Rep. Ted Lieu.
GLAAD—the American non-governmental media monitoring organisation founded by LGBTQ people in the media—runs an ongoing Trump Accountability Project (TAP), a catalogue of “the anti-LGBTQ statements and actions of President Donald Trump and those in his circle.” “94 attacks on LGBTQ people in 767 days,” reads the headline (at time of writing). Examples include the scrapping of any information about LGBT identities from the White House website on the day of his inauguration, through to the consideration this month of “dissolving the ‘disparate impact’ regulation, which grants marginalized communities (including LGBTQ Americans) legal protections from unintended discrimination in housing, education, and other ways of life,” as reported by GLAAD.
Trump’s inconsistency and ignorance is not just lazy governance, it’s downright dangerous. The President is unaware of significant policy being touted and enacted by his administration—policy that he himself may not necessarily agree with. Obviously, this campaign, in particular, is a positive initiative. That said, while those of us who vehemently disagree with Trump might be glad that his staff are going about their jobs in a productive manner, it sets a worrying precedent. What else might be going on that Trump doesn’t know about?