Virtual Influencers (And Their Human Creators) Are Getting ‘Canceled’

The Bridge: Well, that was fast…the first Virtual Influencer signed to a major record label was dropped after only a week. FN Meka, a fictional character created with Artificial Intelligence algorithms that exploded onto the TikTok scene and amassed 10 million followers, is canceled.

Hello, Cancel Culture

We at The Gen Bridge have danced around the topic of cancel culture since our inaugural issue, and this is a good time to formally introduce our lovely readers to the concept. In a nutshell, any bad behavior (online or off) is grounds for cancellation.

Say something problematic? Canceled.

Wear clothing or accessories seen as protected or racially insensitive? Canceled.

Shame someone for their body or gender identity? Canceled.

The lines get a little blurry, of course, as social norms change. We live in quickly shifting times, and there’s no formal guidebook for what’s “right” and what’s “wrong”. Sometimes it’s left up to the mob – and when someone missteps, the tide of outrage can pull them under for good.

What does this have to do with a digital rapper?

FN Meka, a totally virtual mumble rapper with an immense following, is in hot water. His images are all digitally created, his lyrics were supposedly written by artificial intelligence (though this has been disputed now), and his voice is real-life rapper Kyle The Hooligan (who allegedly didn’t see a penny after recording the first few tracks).

So what the heck did Meka do?

The AI performer has been accused of perpetuating harmful racial stereotypes, with some users going as far as calling it “Digital Blackface”. The lyrics are not extreme by rap standards, but detractors take umbrage with the use of the N-word and blatant images of police brutality when the character was ostensibly created by a non-Black team. The company behind the creation is accused of exploiting Black culture for profit, essentially staging an ugly virtual minstrel show, while leaving the voice of the character on read.

It’s a weird situation we find ourselves in – since he doesn’t actually exist, FN Meka feels no pain in the face of his cancellation. The company behind him has some serious backpedaling to do if they want to see their creation succeed.

The music industry preying on the talents and culture of genuinely phenomenal artists is nothing new, but this is a different situation entirely. We’re seeing the script flipped in real-time. A few hastily written songs with an algorithm churning in the background, and audiences are demanding accountability from the people at the tippy top. The rapid turnaround might mark the beginning of a new era of cultural responsibility.

virtualunplug // vista x L. Aguayo

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