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Screenshot: @bermudaisbae/Instagram

The account of popular progressive Instagram model @lilmiquela (1 million followers) was supposedly "hacked" last week by popular pro-Trump instagram model @bermudaisbae (64k followers). While details around the hack are hazy, a photo of the models together suggests that the event was coordinated. Instagram says "there’s no indication that the account in question was compromised."

Yes, but: Neither model is real, although one is verified by Instagram. They are computer-generated imagery (CGI) models with massive followings and in some cases have racked up real advertising deals and music profiles. (Music by @lilmiquela is listed on Spotify and Apple Music.)

  • The case for anonymity online is being tested as regulators, platforms and brands try to wrap their heads around the messy consequences of non-human social media accounts.
  • No one knows exactly who is responsible for these accounts, although @lilMiquela has recently alluded to a robotics and AI firm, Brud, as being the origin of her creation and @bermudaisBae says she's made by an AI company called Cain Intelligence, which says on its website that it openly endorsesDonald Trump.

Why it matters: These accounts are often — by Instagram and the Federal Trade Commission's standards — considered to be commercial enterprises that are subject to the same advertising disclosure laws as real models.

  • These accounts sometimes don't adequately disclose sponsorship information, which makes rules hard to enforce. @lilMiquela, for example, credits certain hair care products for her "silky" locks, but none of her posts are labeled as an "ad," if these endorsements even are ads.
  • It can be difficult for the FTC and other regulators to crack down on these fake personalities, because their origins are difficult to track.
  • "The FTC might have to start suing people," says, Consumer Unions Director of Consumer Privacy and Technology Policy Justin Brookman. "But they're probably nervous about that because their guidelines are based on underlying law that was passed a century ago, which broadly says 'don't be deceptive.'"

The big picture: Accounts like these also have the ability to disrupt political discourse by taking advantage of the popularity around emerging trends to build an audience and then promoting certain political perspectives.

  • In this example, both "models" are gaining traction by promoting real fashion and culture trends while also taking vocal positions about divisive political issues. @lilMiquela, for example, supports LGTBQ rights and the #BlackLivesMatter movement, while @Bermudaisbae is an open skeptic of climate change science.
  • "They play to all of the social psychological biases we have," says Holly Schroth, a senior lecturer at the Haas School of Business who specializes in social psychology.
  • Similar to hoax accounts used during the 2016 elections,these accounts play to the modern political psychology of appealing to audiences that resonate with social media movements over policies, or even people.

What's next: The lines are only going to continue to blur as technology becomes more sophisticated.

Go deeper

Updated 6 hours ago - World

UK government: Kremlin has plan "to install pro-Russian leadership" in Ukraine

British Foreign Secretary Elizabeth Truss. Photo: Gints Ivuskans / AFP via Getty Images

The United Kingdom's Foreign Secretary on Saturday night said the government has "information that indicates the Russian Government is looking to install a pro-Russian leader in Kyiv as it considers whether to invade and occupy Ukraine."

Driving the news: U.S. National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne called the intelligence "deeply concerning" in a statement to Axios. The Biden administration has said Russia is actively manufacturing a pretext for invasion and warned that Putin could use joint military exercises in Belarus as cover to invade from the north.

Updated 7 hours ago - Science

This powerful new accelerator looks for keys to the center of atoms

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Nuclear physicists trying to piece together how atoms are built are about to get a powerful new tool.

Why it matters: When the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams begins experiments later this spring, physicists from around the world will use the particle accelerator to better understand the inner workings of atoms that make up all the matter that can be seen in the universe.

Updated 7 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Health: FDA OKs antiviral drug remdesivir for non-hospitalized COVID patients — Walensky: CDC language "pivoting" on "fully vaccinated" — Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Teens and adults missed 37 million vaccinations during COVID — Team USA 100% vaccinated against COVID ahead of Beijing Olympics — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America — Annual COVID vaccine preferable to boosters, says Pfizer CEO.
  3. Politics: Arizona governor sues Biden administration over COVID funds tied to mandates — Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults — Beijing officials urge COVID-19 "emergency mode" before Winter Olympics.
  5. Variant tracker