10 June 2024

Everyone’s Talking About Cara… but Is It Any Good?

Just when you thought social media couldn't be more fractured, there's a new game in town. But don't groan and switch off just yet. Cara actually offers something different, and the important thing is that it's been purposely developed to support artists.


Emerging in the aftermath of widespread protests against AI-generated artwork, Cara is all about prioritising and protecting human artists and has adopted a resolute anti-AI stance. So, first, it strictly prohibits the posting of AI-generated art. Second, it has software that prevents that from happening. Third, it has implemented measures to prevent companies from scraping user images for the purpose of training AIs.


And that's pretty important right now because Meta has said that from 26 June, it will now be scraping its users' content for AI training. That's right: any content you've uploaded to Instagram or Facebook is now being mercilessly devoured by AI bots, allowing it to be used in the creation of generative AI art.


Admittedly, you can fiddle with the settings to prevent that. But Meta seems to have gone out of its way to make this fiddly. Furthermore, many creatives are asking themselves whether they ultimately want to support a platform that exploits people's work in this way.


All this comes on top of the ongoing struggles creatives are having with Instagram, such as lower engagement and questionable algorithms preventing their followers from actually seeing their content. This already led us in April to declare 'Instagram is dead to us'.


Cara has been around since early 2023, but it's really taken off in the last couple of months, with big-name artists such as Bobby Chiu and Aaron Blaise shifting to the platform. But what's it actually like, and should you use it yourself?


In this article, we'll examine the main pros and cons of using Cara and what members of the Creative Boom community think of it so far.

What is Cara?

At its core, Cara is a crowdfunded social media and portfolio platform designed explicitly for artists and creatives. Founded by photographer and art director Jingna Zhang and a team of like-minded creatives, it aims to provide a haven where artists can showcase their work, connect with fellow creatives, and potentially find job opportunities – all without the looming threat of their intellectual property being misused for AI training.

The platform prohibits the posting of AI-generated artwork and employs measures to detect and moderate such content. Additionally, it implements tools like "NoAI" tags and collaborates with projects like Glaze and Nightshade, which aim to protect artists' works from being scraped by AI models.


Beyond its anti-AI stance, Cara offers a familiar user interface that combines elements of Instagram's timeline, ArtStation's portfolio layout and the jobs board from LinkedIn. Significantly, you have much control over what's shown in your feed. That means they can choose to see content from people they follow chronologically, just like you used to be able to do on Instagram: imagine that! You can also separate text-based posts from image-based posts.


Right now, then, these seem to be the stand-out pros for using Cara.


  1. A safe haven for original art: With its strict anti-AI policy and protective measures, Cara provides a much-needed space where artists can share their work without fear of exploitation.
  2. A dedicated creative community: Unlike broader platforms like Instagram, Cara promises a focused community of fellow artists and creatives, fostering a more tailored networking and collaborative environment.
  3. Job opportunities: The dedicated job board can connect artists with prospective employers or clients seeking human-created artwork.
  4. Freedom from algorithms and ads: Cara offers a chronological feed free from invasive algorithms and advertisements, allowing users to control their content consumption.


So, what are the negatives, if any? At this point, we'd identify four potential drawbacks.


  1. Limited reach: While the idea of centering Cara around a dedicated creative community is appealing, it's kind of a double-edged sword. On a huge platform like Insta, you can theoretically put your work before a cross-section of society, including potential clients. But if you're only talking to other artists on Cara, can it offer that broader exposure or sales opportunities we're all looking for?
  2. Sustainability concerns: As a relatively new platform, questions arise about Cara's long-term sustainability and ability to maintain a dedicated user base. Running a tech platform costs huge amounts of money, and it's unclear how Cara can make money in the long term unless it reverts to the very practices that have made Instagram, Facebook and Twitter increasingly unpalatable to creatives. Could it, alternatively, rely on crowdfunding alone? Perhaps. Wikipedia does, for example. But we question whether Cara will ever have a broad enough base to repeat that success.
  3. Unfamiliar territory: Transitioning to a new platform can be daunting, particularly for artists who have already established a significant following on more established platforms like Instagram.
  4. Added workload: Most of us have recently spent a lot of time transitioning our work to new platforms like Thread, BlueSky, and Mastodon. Do any of us really have the energy to do it all again?
  5. Potential for exploitation: While Cara's avowed intention to protect artists, ultimately, it's difficult to see how it could prevent anyone from scraping its data if they were really determined to. And simply by being a centralised platform focused on human-created art, it could become an attractive target for bad actors. (Of course, if you follow this argument, then the only real solution is never to post your content online at all, but perhaps that is something that creatives should be thinking about, too…?)

How the community is reacting

Given Cara's clear stance of being pro-artist and anti-AI, it may surprise them that the creative community's reactions have been a little mixed so far.


For sure, many artists have wholeheartedly embraced the platform, encouraged by its stated mission and the potential for a fresh start. Others, however, remain sceptical, unwilling to abandon the communities and following they've built on existing platforms.


Anime fan artist Jenn Ummi It is among the latter. "I've seen artists moving to Cara because of Meta's new AI policy, and people have asked if I'll join too," she says. "Sadly, I won't. Even though the platform seems awesome, I know I'll abandon it in a week. While I don't love what Meta is doing with our work, my wonderful community and job are on Instagram, and I can't simply abandon them."


Others have made the leap but are still largely on the fence. Take artist Rob Lowe, aka Supermundane, who's joined Cara but is also staying on Instagram having clicked the appropriate buttons to opt out of Meta's AI scrape. "I'm sceptical that Cara will come to anything, or if I even have the energy to make it come to anything," he says.


"Despite Instagram doing its very best to make it as little fun as possible, I still like it more than any other of the social apps," he adds. "I haven't clicked with Threads; I have never liked Twitter or, god help us, 'X'. Whenever I go into the corporate world of LinkedIn, I wonder what I am doing there. The same goes for TikTok, but for different reasons. Cara seems like more of the same, and we need something new, although it is hard to know what that is. What do we really want?


"For all of the problems with Instagram – I feel constantly bullied by its algorithms – I still find new and wonderful things here daily: music, art, ideas, silliness... So, for now, I will still be here, posting bumbling videos and my work for anyone interested."


Illustrator David Webb feels similarly. "I jumped on the Threads thing pretty quick, and it turned sour even quicker," he recalls. "I'll wait to see what happens with Cara, but I'm not holding my breath on it being the saviour of creativity on socials."


Photographer Thom Bartley meanwhile has had a disappointing experience with Cara so far. "It bugged me, so it was pretty unusable. It looks like it has some cool ideas and features, but the problem with an app like this seems to be that it's all creatives sharing with each other. For me to use it, it has to have 'normal' people on it too because other creatives aren't my clients."


Others, though, are more positive. "I am so excited about this!" says Christine Lindstrom. "It almost has me tearing up that we finally found a way out!" Designer Yurie Takashima has enthusiastically joined too. "I desperately need a place where I can genuinely connect with other creatives!" she says. And illustrator Akiko Maegawa notes: "I get the impression that there are many users from overseas."


Visual artist Hanagi Udayraj is also shouting Cara's praises. "I think all artists, art lovers, collectors and people associated with the art market and art world should join Cara if they want to see some no-bullshit content," he argues. And artist, writer and podcaster Dean Guy is broadly supportive too. "It's a little slow, but so far, I'm liking the idea," he says. "I haven't got much to lose any more trying something new."

Conclusion: Should you join Cara?

Ultimately, the decision to embrace Cara or stick with more established platforms will be highly personal for each person.


On the one hand, it offers more or less everything we've been missing from Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. The ability to get chronological updates from followers in your feed. Protection against AI and guardrails against the platform itself being swamped by AI art. A smaller, more focused community centred around art rather than an avalanche of crypto scams and abusive trolls. So, really, there's a strong argument to say that if we don't support Cara, it dies, and Meta/Facebook/Instagram wins, we're basically getting the social media we deserve.


On the other hand, we totally understand if joining a new social network, particularly one that seems to have a few technical teething problems and a limited audience at this stage, might seem like a massive pain. We've all been burned before by tech platforms promising good things, only to renege on them later.


Remember when Google's motto was 'Don't be evil?' Remember when OpenAI was set up expressly to protect people against AI rather than – as some would argue – becoming a cheerleader for its rampant expansion, consequences be dammed? In that light, we'd understand if you felt unwilling to cash in your chips with Cara on the grounds that you just Don't Trust Tech Companies Anymore.


Ultimately, though, we like the cut of Cara's jib. We like that it clearly has good intentions. We like that it's crowdfunded and not ad hoc to dubious venture capitalists. And we like that creatives now have an alternative to posting on Instagram, where your art will be scraped by AI without any obvious recompense.


That said, things can change quickly in the tech space. So we also vow to monitor Cara, check its progress, and ensure it does not wander down dubious alleys. We promise to keep you abreast of any important developments. Stay tuned!