Virtual influencers, who are they and what do they do?


Alongside the real-world human influencers, virtual influencers are CGI characters who act as human influencers, but who do not physically exist in the real world. Such characters, created and animated using 3D graphics by marketing companies, are specially designed to particularly support the big brands.

Who are these virtual influencers? What is their purpose? What ethics is behind all this? Above all, what is the public opinion towards virtual influencers? Defined by its acronym SPRITZ, the Security and PRIvacy Through Zeal Group is led by the University of Padua IT Security professor, Mauro Conti. The group studies the most popular virtual influencers and their collaborations by comparing them with real influencers.

Operating in the social media sector, the spin-off of the University of Padua CHISITO co-financed grants for the study to UniPD researcher Pier Paolo Tricomi. The University of California Irvine student, Jenil Gathani, also participated in the study, which examined the evolution of virtual influencers by asking about the opportunities and threats that could arise from their exposure to the public. The study also delves into the question of virtual influencers’ ethical standards that govern their existence. The study assessed the result collected from 360 participants who completed questionnaires based on this phenomenon.

The results of the research entitled Virtual Influencers in Online Social Media published in IEEE Communications Magazine indicates that Virtual Influencers, paid even $ 10,000 per post, offer various benefits to the companies that use them.  Such influence offers complete exclusivity, total fidelity and the possibility of being represented in any place and time.

What do people think of all this? While many believe that creating a virtual influencer for profit alone is immoral (42%), others (12%) argue that it is not much different from what human influencers do: show the best (often fake) part of themselves to earn more money and followers. The remaining 45% would trust a virtual influencer based on the context in which they operate, mainly for topics of technology and fashion.

In general, people have shown both interest and fear for this phenomenon, which could become uncontrollable. I0% of people think it is impossible to build relationships with them (33% said "maybe"), which reflects that only 15% of participants would chat with them.

Furthermore, there is nothing to prevent virtual influencers from one day conveying more dangerous messages than simple advertisements. Considering that artificial intelligent algorithms automatically generate their content, moderation will certainly become more problematic.