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The front page of Cara’s web version on June 4

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Fed Up With Meta’s AI Bullshit, Artists Are Fleeing To A New Site Called Cara

Cara went from 100k to 700k users in FIVE DAYS

The life of a modern working artist can be rough. The splintering of social media platforms has made it increasingly hard to gain exposure and find work, and as more greedy companies make use of the tech, AI is coming directly for their jobs.

Having taken body blow after body blow for the last two years, though, artists are not going to just sit there and take it. While some of them fight a major lawsuit against the biggest AI platforms and tech companies on the planet, the last week has seen an unprecedented exodus of artists from platforms like Facebook, Instagram and ArtStation--all of which are accepting of, if not actively pushing, machine-generated imagery--as they flock to join Cara, a new site that is promising to do things (slightly) differently.

When I say the move is unprecedented, I don't just mean in terms of volume (its iOS app outperformed Twitter, Discord and Reddit last week). I also mean in terms of speed: As tech's rot economy sets in, it's taken upstart rivals like BlueSky months to make a dent in Twitter's userbase. In Cara's case, it took less than a week, as the site went from 100,000 users on June 1 to 700,000 on June 6.

While Cara has actually been open for over a year now, and has had some high-profile artists residing there the whole time, things reached a collective boiling point last week when news of a recent change to Meta's privacy policy started circulating among artists. I can't pin down who exactly was the first pebble to start the avalanche, but from Thursday, May 30, through the weekend, nearly every artist I follow on social media--and that's a lot--started posting links to their Cara portfolio, and in many cases following up by saying they were deleting their presence on many of their other sites (especially Facebook and Instagram) as they went.

Those privacy policy changes implemented by Meta--the parent company of both Facebook and Instagram, sites where most artists maintain some kind of portfolio presence--included refreshed guidelines on how the platforms would be making use of machine-learning. As DACS summarised last week:

For many visual artists and creators Instagram is a key social media channel to help people engage with their works. The reason this new policy change is particularly concerning is that any images and creative works shared on Meta's platforms (Instagram or Facebook) can be used by Meta to develop AI models unless you can successfully object to the use. Given the apparent effort involved in doing this, many users may find the content they post to Instagram and Facebook used by Meta to develop AI models without their explicit consent.

No thanks! It's little wonder that so many have moved so quickly to Cara, a platform that has been established specifically to cater to artists wanting to get away from AI-friendly megacorps.

"I first opened an account on Friday May 31st, which is around the time most everyone in my art community seemed to catch on to Cara's existence", artist Isaac Orloff tells me. "I was motivated to create an account because I, like many others, have become increasingly dismayed with the experience of social media when it pertains to being an artist or a creative. The rise of art theft masquerading as artificial intelligence has become unavoidable on all of our social media platforms."

Even longtime Cara members like Kim Hu (who we featured a little while back) are blown away by the flood of new users. "I joined up as one of the first members, as at the time I was tired of Artstation’s pivot to allowing AI to flood in with no guardrails", she says. "It was a quiet and cozy community from then on, until it suddenly began to blow up seemingly out of nowhere! It’s still a little wild to have witnessed last week’s growth spurt, but I welcome how active and buzzing it is now."

Founded by Jingna Zhang--an artist who not only recently won a very high profile copyright case, but is also involved in the big AI lawsuit against Stability AI, Midjourney and Deviantart--Cara bills itself as "a social media and portfolio platform for artists", saying on its website:

When AI art’s popularity exploded in late 2022, many art platforms turned away from the pleas of their users when it came to moderating AI-generated images, and while generative AI can be a powerful tool, we cannot ignore that AI companies are using datasets trained on copyrighted work and private personal data without our consent.

We understand that platforms may not have the power to solve the unethical and legal issues surrounding such datasets alone, but we believe that at the very least, they should to show solidarity and respect for artists and their communities in such times.

We felt that if no platform is interested in doing that, then we should build a platform for ourselves, one where the human factor is respected and prioritized.

It's important to note a few things here. Firstly, Cara isn't explicitly anti-AI as a concept; while the site says "We do not agree with generative AI tools in their current unethical form, and we won’t host AI-generated portfolios unless the rampant ethical and data privacy issues around datasets are resolved via regulation", there is acknowledgement that in some capacity AI tools are likely here to stay, and so the site will allow filtering of such content "In the event that legislation is passed to clearly protect artists".

And secondly, it's not really a social media site. While it's Meta's policy changes that appear to have broken most people, Cara is much closer in design to a platform like ArtStation--a portfolio space where artists can post images, gifs and videos of their work--than a social media network, where algorithms and communication are given higher priority (though it does have a "social feed" system built into it).

Artbook publisher Spiridon Giannakis says, "I understand the fatigue about investing time into yet another platform that is maybe not going anywhere, but there is an important thing to keep in mind, and take it from someone who has given his everything multiple times to make people come together in one way or another: You don't get to complain about something if you don't try to make a difference in what bothers you, no matter how big of a deal you probably are. I think Cara has real potential and even if I am wrong, at least I will not just write it off because it has become somehow inconvenient to communicate [on yet another platform]."

While closest in design to a site like ArtStation, it's not quite identical, either; a key feature of Cara is that every image uploaded to it is first run through Glaze (UPDATE: This is incorrect, there's the option to run it through Glaze), software first released last year that (as I wrote at the time) helps protect an image from being scraped by AI platforms by:

...adding a second, almost invisible layer on top of a piece of art. What makes the whole thing so interesting is that this isn’t a layer made of noise, or random shapes. It also contains a piece of art, one that’s roughly of the same composition, but in a totally different style. You won’t even notice it’s there, but any machine learning platform trying to lift it will, and when it tries to study the art it’ll get very confused.

Social media site or not, a lot of folks are deleting their Facebook and Instagram accounts regardless (or have at least pledges to stop uploading art there), and having jumped by 600,000 users in five days (I should point out that in addition to being an app, Cara is also usable as a regular website, one that is currently calling for reader support in the wake of rapidly escalating running costs) it's clear a lot of fans are already using it just to keep tabs on their favourite artists.

"My plan if all goes well, is that I’ll be using Cara and my own personal website as the only places I’ll upload my artwork", Karla Ortiz, another participant in the big anti-AI lawsuit, tells me. "For every other site I’ll either share links or screenshots, properly Glazed of course. I’m not saying goodbye to other social media sites just yet, and will still share my thoughts in those sites too. I’m just becoming more protective of my artwork, and no longer comfortable sharing it on websites that ridiculously claim they 'own' my work and use that claim to train their own AI models.”

"If you asked me 10 years ago if I thought I'd ever not use Facebook I wouldn't have believed it, but now I don't use Facebook at all", Orloff says. "It was never a conscious choice to step away but eventually I realized all of the content I was consuming was from people I hardly knew, and it became not worth the time. The rise of political discourse also completely ruined the experience. The goal is to hopefully end up with less websites to have to manage, and have the ones we do frequent provide us with the experience we are looking for, and not what we are forced to endure."

I don't want to make this all sound like an advertisement for Cara; for me, the story here is how, by showing even a modicum of respect for artist, a platform can explode in a matter of days, as clear an indicator as any of just how bad things are right now on the existing social media behemoths. And it's always foolish, maybe even dangerous, to paint a platform as some kind of "saviour"; remember, ArtStation was once a plucky upstart rising from the ashes of CGHub's demise, and now finds itself living long enough to become a villain.

But, low bar or not, a website saying that it has "solidarity and respect for artists and their communities" means a lot in 2024, when so many others, from social media juggernauts like Meta to portfolio sites like ArtStation and DeviantArt--can't hide their disdain for the average user, their work and their experience.

"For me the MOST important thing is that this is a platform that won’t scrape my artwork to train generative AI models against my wishes", Ortiz says. "That security and philosophy is huge for me. But I do hope Cara remains a human-centered platform even in a very far off hypothetical future where AI is ethical and non-exploitative. There is something truly wonderful about knowing what you’re overall looking at isn’t AI, it’s human made. Personally, I think we all desperately need that awe and wonder of actual human creativity back in our lives."

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