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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

House Judiciary Committee advances reparations bill in historic vote

Sheila Jackson Lee. Photo: Al Drago/Getty Images

The House Judiciary Committee voted 25 to 17 Wednesday to advance a bill that would create a commission to study reparations for Black Americans who are the descendants of slaves.

Why it matters: "No such bill has ever come this far during Congressional history of the United States," said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), who sponsored the bill, per the Washington Post.

Updated 5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Officer Kim Potter arrested, charged with manslaughter in Daunte Wright's death

Kim Potter's booking photos. Photo: Hennepin County Sheriff's Office

Kim Potter, the former police officer charged with second-degree manslaughter in the fatal shooting of Daunte Wright, was released on a $100,000 bond on Wednesday, Hennepin County jail records show.

Why it matters: Sunday's shooting of the 20-year-old Black man in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, just 10 miles from where George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer last year, has reinvigorated Black Lives Matter protests and led to three consecutive nights of unrest.

Updated 5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Biden names Erika Moritsugu as senior AAPI liaison

Erika Moritsugu. Photo courtesy: National Partnership for Women & Families

President Biden has named Erika Moritsugu as deputy assistant to the president and Asian American and Pacific Islander senior liaison, the White House announced Wednesday.

Driving the news: The decision follows weeks of pressure from AAPI leaders to include more Asian American representation at the Cabinet level and in senior administration roles.