Virtual stimuli are harmful to mental health?

Virtual influencers are increasingly present on social networks, mainly followed by young people. This phenomenon is alarming, especially because of its possible psychological consequences for subscribers.

Like human influencers, they have thousands of followers on social media, but unlike them, they are not real. These virtual influencers are created from scratch using artificial intelligence and 3D imaging software. Among them is Lil Miquela, the most famous influencer in the world, followed by 3 million people on Instagram. She is also a model and singer, who lives on social networks where she shows herself, among other things, in the evening or on vacation.

Several companies are interested in it, such as Krafton, which introduced its first virtual human called Ana in June. Designed to enhance community participation at a global level, it should expand later “The scope of her work as an influencer in various fields of entertainment and esports”. However, this presence on social networks is cause for concern, particularly with regard to the potential effects on the mental health of individuals. This is a question that arises, especially in light of the damage caused by human influencers.

Possible adverse effects on young people

“Although there are few studies on the negative impact of virtual influencers, there is evidence that human influencers are often harmful”recently clarified new worldInternational Science Journal. Social networks and influencers are actually harmful in that they cause individuals to compare themselves to others. Platforms are also accused of harming the mental health of young people, especially since the discoveries of Facebook files. Take Instagram, for example, which overexposes teens to lives that seem perfect to other people, influencers included.

While these consequences worry many, the consequences of virtual influencers are more than they fear: who collect on average twice as many teen followers as their human counterparts. “There may be cause for concern. The cognitive abilities of adolescents are still developing and they have less experience with social networks than older people, so they do not have a critical eye.Elizabeth Daniels, a developmental psychologist at the University of Colorado, said, new world.

A statement that joins that made to the media by Amy Orben, the psychologist who leads the Digital Mental Health Program at the University of Cambridge. the edge last April: “Adolescence is a key moment in cognitive, biological and social development. These changes interact with social media in a very interesting way”She said, referring to a study on the relationship between the use of these platforms and well-being. This showed that social networks can have an impact on the mental health of young people, at puberty and when they leave the family home, two pivotal periods.

Virtual social media influencers have been a concern for several years. Already in 2019, the non-profit organization Internet Matters warned of this phenomenon. Whether by using chatbots, bots, or other artificial intelligence (AI) related objects, individuals can attribute human characteristics to them and empathize with them in the same way they empathize with others. However, this empathy can be used by brands who use virtual influencers to help them monetize engagement, but also to manipulate users into buying their products, as shown by Internet Matters.

“Tech organizations are creating virtual influencer accounts in an effort to capitalize on social media trends and help increase brand awareness in an online audience. The ambitious computer-generated images posted by virtual influencers often include representations of the perfect body or unattainable style. mechanism “the organization alerted in a press release.

For Linda Papadopoulos, ambassador and psychologist at Internet Matters, they likely harm self-esteem, body image, and children’s understanding of “real life.” This is why she advises parents to give them all the information, talk about these accounts as they would for a human influencer and encourage them to think critically about the content viewed. “Have them de-identify these accounts by asking key questions: Who is creating these posts, who they are targeting, and why are they wearing these clothes and promoting these products? Allowing your child to ask questions will highlight the manipulated nature of these accounts and images.”Linda Papadopoulos advised.

A phenomenon that also affects adults

Although we think more about young people when we talk about influencers, especially virtual influencers, adults are also concerned about the potential influences of these personalities. This is also shown by a survey conducted by the influencer marketing agency among 1,044 Americans in March. “Our goal was to better understand the experiences and opinions of American users about these virtual uses that we see more and more on social networks.”agency said. According to this study, 58% follow a hypothetical influencer. And if users aged 35-44 are less often young people, they are still the first group of people who think they can recognize these virtual influencers, but also trust a product that one of them is promoting.

Of the 35% of respondents who said they had already purchased a product or service promoted by a virtual influencer, they were the first to make such a purchase. “Although many would say there is no way a computer generated person could influence consumers, our investigation has indicated that this is not true.”The influencer marketing agency explained.

Thus, young people and adults expose themselves to the potential undesirable effects or consequences of virtual influencers, either by being bystanders to materialistic representations or inaccessible lifestyles, or by encouraging them to buy products or services – potentially harming themselves in some cases. This has happened before with human influencers promoting beauty products or cryptocurrencies resulting in financial damage or loss.

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