Cara: Why are Artists Moving to

Find out why hundreds of thousands of artists are signing up for Cara, the new art and social media platform taking a stand against AI models.

Cara app - Screenshot of homepage
Image: Cara
By: Javier ReyesJun 18, 2024, 9:30 AM

What happened?

Since last year, Meta, the parent company of Instagram, Facebook, and WhatsApp, has been slowly integrating generative AI features into its platforms to assist advertisers in creating and targeting ads. With the billions of dollars invested into the AI space today, it’s no surprise that a tech giant like Meta is going in that direction. However, it’s come to light that Instagram will soon start using public images and videos to train its AI models. By agreeing on the new privacy policies, Meta has free reign to feed their AI models with user data. And while Meta allows users to opt out of sharing their data, they’re not making it easy.

As data privacy is already such a touchy subject for many average users, this new change in Meta is especially terrifying for the hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of visual artists on the platform. The “AI vs. Art” discourse has been a heated topic over the last two years, and this move by Meta adds more fuel to the fire. What once were the platforms for artists to thrive and showcase their hand-crafted work now feel like unsafe spaces because of the looming threat of their art being used without their consent. That is why there was a sudden wave of artists across the world posting about this new social media platform called “Cara.” 

Art by Cara user @citrusfoamImage: @citrusfoam / Cara

What is Cara?

Branded as an “Artist Social and Portfolio Platform,” Cara launched in 2022 to only a handful of users. The kicker to this new platform is that it is openly against using and promoting AI-generated content. With Meta’s increased push on training their AI models, Cara’s user base skyrocketed–going from roughly 30,000 users to over 300,000 seemingly overnight. But with the core development team still being very small, this massive uptick is exceeding their expectations. In an interview with TechCrunch, Cara CEO Jingna Zhang opened up about the challenges of operating a site with immense traffic while still being a small and independent team. But like any new product or service, having too many users is always a good problem to have since so many eyes are on the new platform right now.

The Role of Social Media Platforms for Artists Today

For most people, social media platforms are spaces to post about their daily lives. But for brands big and small, Instagram and Facebook are the biggest and most accessible platforms for publishing media today. While it takes millions of dollars to produce and broadcast content on traditional print, TV, and radio, social media content comes at a fraction of the cost. 

However, there is ultimately a catch when it comes to posting on social media. In the last 20 years, these platforms have become corporate-owned networks driven by very distinct goals. According to Chris Dixon, a partner at Andreessen Horowitz, most corporate-owned social media networks have the following characteristics:

  • Corporations centralize control over policies, features, and data management.
  • These sites follow profit-driven motives, often prioritizing revenue over user interests.
  • Despite privacy concerns, platforms monetize user data through models like targeted advertising, and now training AI models
  • Corporations have the power to moderate content, which can lead to censorship issues.
  • As more users join, the power these platforms wield compounds orders of magnitude via network effects.
  • User trust issues arise from centralized control and profit motives.

Because social media is so powerful in today’s market, it costs significant money and resources to launch a new network, let alone a successful one. When TikTok launched, it invested heavily (likely billions) in user acquisition to rapidly grow its user base. TikTok achieved exponential growth and is now one of the most popular social media platforms globally. Core to their growth strategies were the following:

  • Investing massive amounts of money in advertising across Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. 
  • Cash rewards, contests, and challenges to incentivize new users to sign up.
  • Collaborating with influencers and celebrities to leverage established audiences across the world.

Because TikTok is owned by the Chinese technology giant ByteDance, it had the immense financial backing to get its feet off the ground quickly. This is the main reason why social media alternatives like Bluesky, Mastodon, Bereal, Threads, and so on have struggled to grow within today’s landscape.

Why are artists moving to Cara?

Like many other discussions about AI today, understanding Cara and what it represents takes a bit of nuance. As romantic as it would be to think of Cara as a massive industry shift and a proverbial middle finger to AI-generated art, the reality is much less flowery than that. Even with hundreds of thousands of artists joining the new platform, the benefits of being present on Instagram and Facebook are still massive, especially for independent artists trying to make a name for themselves. More than anything, artists are joining Cara as a safety net if the changes to Meta are as dire as they seem.

Right now, Cara offers a suite of unique features that make it stand out from other art-focused social media platforms. Among the most notable features is the integration of Glaze, a program designed to protect art from style mimicry by generative AI models. The site also boasts automated AI image detection and filtering to prevent such works from flooding the database. And because Cara is more focused on developing artists, the site includes a Job Board where businesses can post listings that users can apply for. So while Cara may not replace Instagram and Facebook entirely, it offers enough resources and services to help artists increase their digital footprints. 

Who can you currently find on Cara?

What makes Cara important for artists today?

Social media platforms are one of, if not the, biggest tools an artist can use to elevate their careers. It’s where they can make their work get noticed by fans, peers, and even possible employers. Especially for independent artists trying to get their foot in the door, social media is the best place where they can start to find their “1000 True Fans.”  But with Meta being so gung-ho about their practices with AI, artists are justified in feeling uneasy about posting in such online spaces. With so much fear surrounding Meta’s new AI training policies, Cara at least feels like a safe haven for artists to take a stand and make their opposition against AI be heard.  

Where does Cara fit into today’s social media landscape? 

While the boom in Cara’s user base is promising, the new platform still has a steep hill to climb. It will take time for the platform to develop its niche as more users come in looking to see what all the hype is about. In the meantime, it’s great to see so many different artists, whether established with big followings or not, give Cara a shot while it's still in its very early stages. 

One thing to keep in mind is that Cara will most likely not replace giants like Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter. Not overnight, at least. As uplifting as it is to see waves of artists come together to support a new platform with distinct values and ideals, Cara’s biggest challenge will be bringing over fans and potential customers onto the platform as well. Right now, Cara is doing a fantastic job fostering a new community of artists who want a safe place to post their art. If anything, what Cara could become is something much closer to the next Deviant Art or Art Station. Considering those two platforms have lost plenty of goodwill within the community because of their new support for AI and NFTs, Cara could be the site that fills that space for artists to connect with other artists.

What can be done around the potential AI has on the careers of creatives?

In today’s technology-driven world, the power of AI is undeniable. For many, it’s the key to getting many things done faster, smarter, and bigger. But while AI technology is going through such monumental advancements, so must the rules and regulations around them. With AI art being such a divisive topic, there needs to be more accessible solutions for artists to opt in or out of AI training to ensure their work is being used as intended. 

Whether or not Cara will be the platform that sparks change remains to be seen. But it represents a step in the right direction in a world where AI will continue significantly impacting society. Considering the platform is spearheaded by a leader within the creative community, it sparks hope that new technologies are being developed with artists in mind.