Privacy and control has become an everyday part of the conversation about social platforms. Facebook has been plagued by this topic for most of 2018 and beyond. TikTok is under constant scrutiny given the heavy surveillance of its Chinese app, Douyin, and has been fined for illegally storing information for its youngest users below the age of 13. Gen Z has grown up as a generation much more concerned about their online identities than those who came before them. They are accustomed to the form factor of disappearing messages and photos from Snapchat. They have finsta accounts, as I mentioned before, to control the image they portray to their parents. They are constantly culling their pictures on Instagram, as it would be tacky to have more than 25 photos posted at a given time (compared to the average millennial who has every embarrassing tagged photo from college still visible on their profile.) In short, Gen Z has become obsessed with owning their online identity.
Enter Brud. Brud is the company behind artificial influencers like Lil Miquela and Bermuda. They have devised deep identities and dramatic story arcs for these lifelike characters, garnering millions of followers on Instagram. These characters have released pop singles with millions of streams on Spotify, they have partnered with brands like Prada and Calvin Klein, and even gotten tattoos from the hottest celebrity tattoo artists. Brud has acknowledged what much of Gen Z has already picked up on – social media today is largely real humans being fake. It is humans broadcasting their life to achieve status. Now, Brud is taking fake humans to broadcast fake lives as well. But because there is no premise of these lives actually being real, there are fewer limits to what artificial influencers can do. It is storytelling at its finest. And people are happy to buy into it.
I believe that Brud is just the beginning. While today Brud acts as a studio, carefully crafting the stories of these specific influencers, one can imagine a day when any user on the internet can create their own avatar or artificial character and craft their own unique story. This will give users a new level of control – an ability to choose, and create, the life they portray to the rest of the world. We are already doing it today on Instagram, picking and choosing the moments we share, spending hours getting the perfect selfie with the perfect filter to show off that perfect weekend at the beach. Avatars and artificial influencers will take this storytelling to the next level. It removes the limitations of the physical world to allow users to express themselves in a new way.
This is one of a series of excerpts from my chapter in Finding Genius: Venture Capital and the Future it Is Betting On. You can check out the entire excerpt series here. The book is available for purchase on Amazon.