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Amassing over 50,000 followers with her feed of carefully-composed selfies, at first glance, @lilmiquela may seem like just another Instagram it-girl. But a closer look reveals that there’s more, and less, to her than meets the eye. She’s been created to hang out in uncanny valley, parodying the construction of identity online.

A ‘real-life Sim’, an augmented reality cyborg, or a graphic designer’s social media experiment – Lilmiquela’s near-convincing portraits have users leaving endless comments of ‘but are you real though?’ The creation of a still-anonymous influencer, she reveals how we all use Instagram to construct our digital identities.

Lilmiquela’s feed recalls ‘the first Instagram masterpiece’ by Amalia Ulman, who played out an elaborate five-month narrative on the platform, with most of her 90,000 followers believing it all to be real. By design, Instagram encourages users to think of its content as spontaneous and authentic. But both users and brands have long been using the platform to present well-curated feeds, not streams of consciousness – in part thanks to scheduling apps like Later, but also due to the pressure we feel to perfect the life we project. 40% of teens feel pressured to exclusively post content that’ll make them look good.

People are blurring the lines between fake and real in the physical world, as well, as plastic surgery shifts toward more subtle, natural-looking interventions. While Gen Yers continue to pursue authenticity as a value, the attitude is in decline; younger audiences see no divide between online and offline, and prioritise maintaining picture-perfect public personas – both IRL and on Instagram – no matter how constructed.

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Alex Quicho is a cultural researcher in London. She writes about tech, politics, and contemporary art.

20 Jul 16

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