More than 12,000 parents are urging TikTok to more explicitly label AI-generated influencers who could pass as real people to viewers.
An online petition, signed by the parents, was submitted to TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew, expressing their worry regarding AI influencers — who frequently display AI-perfected faces and bodies in their content — potentially contributing to unrealistic beauty standards and body dysmorphia for children and teenagers.
Nonprofit ParentsTogether, which advocates for policies to make the internet safer for kids, is backing the petition.
“Virtual influencers” have been present for years, but parents argue that recent rapid advancements in generative AI technology have made it challenging for casual social media users, especially children, to differentiate between real and artificial content.
Starting early last year, TikTok has mandated creators to tag all realistic AI-generated content, and the platform allows accounts to apply the tag through a toggle function.
ParentsTogether campaign director Shelby Knox expressed that this is insufficient to ensure consistent labeling. These videos often go unlabeled, and viewers might not realize they were watching an AI content creator unless they checked their profile.
Several of these accounts mention in their bios that they are virtual influencers, but they do not explicitly label their content or persona as being AI-generated. Others tend to include disclosures like “#aiinfluencer” in the hashtags of their videos.
“I’m uncertain if the average child knows that a virtual influencer is industry talk for, ‘This person is not real,’” Knox said. “Because these companies are profiting on TikTok’s platform and contributing to a dangerous culture, our belief is that TikTok has a responsibility to consistently and visibly label these accounts and videos.”
A TikTok spokesperson noted in an email that the platform has deleted three of the accounts identified in ParentsTogether’s parent advisory.
“While we appreciate the creativity that AI can unleash, we are aware of the risks it can pose when the use of AI is not transparent. We have been very proactive in creating safety efforts that foster creativity while safeguarding viewers,” the spokesperson wrote, adding that TikTok prohibits content “displaying or promoting disordered eating or any dangerous weight loss behaviors.”
Though issues related to AI transparency are not new, nor are they exclusive to TikTok, Knox stated that parents started noticing the issue more a few months ago when kids were off of school and scrolling on social media more often. She mentioned that when the concern was initially raised, even the staff at ParentsTogether were unable to discern that some of these influencers were not real people.
One account, an AI influencer who goes by the name Deanna Ritter, has 127,000 followers and millions of views on the platform. Videos of her posing in bikinis and lingerie — none of which include an AI disclaimer — often gather hundreds of comments applauding her appearance, seemingly without any knowledge of it being AI-generated.
Another account with over 70,000 followers adopts the appearance of a college-aged girl named Cameron, who frequently posts videos of herself lip-syncing and dancing in a bedroom.
Platforms like TikTok and YouTube are of particular concern to parents because they are the most popular platforms among kids, according to Knox. While this petition targets TikTok specifically, she believes it is also worth delving deeper into the prevalence of the issue on YouTube.
A spokesperson for YouTube explained in an email that the platform prohibits content that glamourizes eating disorders and collaborates with third-party experts to support the well-being of children and teenagers on the platform.
“For example, we limit recommendations for teens in the U.S. of content that compares physical features, idealizes some types over others, or idealizes specific fitness levels or body weights,” the spokesperson explained, “and we have a comprehensive framework for approaching eating disorder-related content on YouTube.”
Virtual influencers have also gained enormous popularity on Instagram, with accounts like Lil Miquela and Shudu partnering with brands and working as fashion models.
Even though some of these creators are well-known for being AI-generated, users unfamiliar with them can often mistake them for real people. Under one photo of Shudu, a commenter wrote: “Your beauty is super natural.”
“I think that this is just indicative of the larger moment we’re in: Parents are overwhelmed. Social media has become sort of a crisis for young people in this country,” Knox said. “Parents are dealing with all of these things and are coming together to say: ‘Something has to change here. Big tech has access to our kids and we need regulation.’”