“Who Influences Who?” Dehumanization in the World of Virtual Influencers

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In the age of social media, people have progressed from merely posing for amusement to monetizing their content. Social media influencers are used as brand endorsements and being able to express their opinions to their followers. Virtual influencers, a novel type of influencer, have rapidly gained popularity in recent years, sparking debates about their impact on society. This thesis provides a comprehensive analysis of virtual influencers, examining their objectives, efficacy in influencer marketing, perception of users, motivations for following them and their anthropomorphic characteristics. Lil Miquela, Shudu Gram, and Noonoouri, will be briefly introduced as virtual influencers in this thesis. The research question of this thesis is to what extent the exposure of unrealistic beauty standards by virtual influencers affects the mental health of their viewers. In order to address the main study question, three sub research questions are introduced which discusses the distorted beauty ideals of virtual influencers, their follower’s confidence and the relationships with virtual influencer. Lil Miquela and Shudu Gram will be used as case studies in answering these questions. To further understand how social media influencers and virtual influencers are seen to be comparable, both groups are compared for each of the three questions. The findings of this study suggest that virtual influencers can negatively affect their followers’ mental health, especially when beauty ideals are emphasized. This study highlights the need for further research to better understand virtual influencers and the potential consequences of their use.
Faculteit der Sociale Wetenschappen