Parent group concerned AI-generated influencers are promoting unhealthy beauty standards

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Neveen Radwan said her teenage daughter started searching workout videos on Instagram and TikTok to stay in shape.

“In the beginning, we really didn’t realize what was happening until it was almost too late,” said Radwan.

But then she said things took a turn.

“How to eat at less than 500 calories a day these what do they call them, ‘what I eat in a day’ videos,” said Radwan. “Things like…if you don’t fit in a baby swing, then you’re not really qualified as being skinny.”

Radwan said her then-15-year-old daughter was diagnosed with anorexia later that year.

“There were times when we really didn’t think she was going to make it,” she said. “The fact that she’s now in college is something that we really at one point didn’t even think we were gonna get to. So we’re grateful for that. But it’s an ongoing process.”

Now Radwan and other parents are terrified by a new trend - fake influencers, created by artificial intelligence.

In an open letter, the national nonprofit, ParentsTogether, is urging TikTok’s CEO to clearly identify AI-generated influencers. Parents worry these accounts may be promoting unrealistic health and beauty standards.

“Putting these virtual influencers into the mix into that environment that already exists. where kids are unable to tell if the influencer with the perfect skin and the perfect body and the fitness routine to go with it all is actually just a set of code and not a real person makes this environment even more challenging for kids who are online,” said Shelby Knox, campaign director at ParentsTogether.

On TikTok’s public explore page most results for AI-generated influencers are people talking about the trend.

A spokesperson told the Washington News Bureau that TikTok now requires that creators label all AI-generated content containing realistic images, audio, and video. In September, it also launched a tool to help creators provide context for viewers.

TikTok also told the bureau it’s working on technology that will automatically label content that it detects was edited with artificial intelligence.

But Knox believes it should be easier for users to identify these videos.

“You don’t have to navigate to the profile, you don’t have to go through the hashtags. When that influencer pops up, oh yeah, this is an AI influencer and then you’re able to talk to your kids about relating to that account differently,” said Knox.

Next week on Capitol Hill, five big tech CEOs will face tough questions from Congress about their policies to protect children online.

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