The controversy over AI art: Online mob mentality and the complex ethics of creativity

Filipino cosplayer Alodia Gosiengfiao, who is one of the world’s most famous cosplayers as well as the co-founder of Southeast Asian esports company Tier One Entertainment, recently started exploring AI art.

Admitting that she’s late to the party, Gosiengfiao, who is an artist herself, just wanted to play around with the AI art generators that have become massively popular in the past few months. Just as all things AI have become.

Imagine her shock, then, when her followers became so upset when she posted AI-generated art on her Facebook page. The barrage of negative comments was so bad that she was forced to take down the image and post an apology

‘Sorry…’ — art by yours truly (non-AI). 

“Thank you for your thoughts and concerns. I’m not here to promote AI-generated images. Just exploring what all the fuss is about. Tbh, I’m late to the game (since this is my first time trying this out). And by doing this now I understand why some fellow artists are against it. I still support real art and will continue to produce non-AI works.

“Today, I listened to all of you and educated myself more about the concerns many of you have around AI-generated images. As a gamer, I like to explore technology, but as an artist, I have deep respect for the craft. I apologise for disappointing you guys. My heart still lies with real art.”

Now, what’s wrong with this picture?

Much ado about AI art

This is what I posted as a comment on her apology.

“I’m sorry you had to experience this, Alodia. It’s an outrage how public figures get bullied by an online mob. It’s one thing to have your opinion on AI art. It’s another to attack someone experimenting with AI art and force her to take it down.

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“Yes, there are valid concerns over AI art. But a mob is a mob, online and offline, and this is basically censorship. Hope you’re all proud of yourselves and your groupthink.”

Let me be clear: it is valid to question the ethical and legal implications of AI-generated art. For instance, research has shown that AI generators can simply copy existing images.

“Researchers in both industry and academia found that the most popular and upcoming AI image generators can ‘memorise’ images from the data they’re trained on. Instead of creating something completely new, certain prompts will get the AI to simply reproduce an image. Some “of these recreated images could be copyrighted. But even worse, modern AI generative models have the capability to memorise and reproduce sensitive information scraped up for use in an AI training set.”

AI art is currently in legal greyscale, challenging existing copyright and privacy laws. In the meantime, many artists have been earning an income selling their AI-generated art as non-fungible tokens (NFTs). NFTs have proven to be a boon for many artists, bringing their work to the attention of an audience that might previously not have been interested in art, but like collecting digital collectibles.

The artists who oppose AI art, however, are concerned not only for ethical reasons but also economic ones, as they deem it unfair to compete with someone who does not have “natural talent” and who hasn’t put in the number of hours required to train in their craft and produce works from scratch, whether manually or digitally.

Of course, AI artists will point out that they do use their talent and own artistic style to edit and enhance the images AI has generated. The AI-generated images are only the building blocks – far from the finished product. And so the question goes back again to whether the AI images themselves violated someone’s copyright.

Far from the online crowd

Clearly, the controversy over AI art is a complex issue that cannot and will not easily be resolved. It is just the tip of the iceberg, as AI continues to evolve and becomes part of human society. 

It is only human to be afraid that AI will replace you. For instance, the Industrial Revolution shook the foundations of society and rendered many professions obsolete or undesirable – and not everyone who lost a job was able to adapt. That’s why, in the age of ChatGPT, many humans are anxious that they could be replaced by AI.   

My problem, however, with what Gosiengfiao experienced is that she became a victim of an online mob mentality. Unfortunately, online mob mentality has become the norm rather than the exception in social media, turning it into a toxic environment.

By loudly criticising and verbally attacking her with their barrage of comments, these so-called fans basically bullied Gosiengfiao into taking down the Ai-generated art and forced her to apologise. It’s no different from the toxic behaviour of, say, K-pop fans who want to dictate what the recording label of their idols should do, or who verbally abuse other K-pop artists and their fans. 

It is a herd mentality in digital form. An online mob is not interested in a discussion or an exchange of ideas. What they want is to impose their ideas and force someone to act the way they want them to. 

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In other words, they are online bullies. And the only way to deal with bullies is to stand up to them.

“We’re entering a world where more of our lives and actions are being not only monitored, but closely inspected, and it’s only a matter of time before we’re all judged under similar scrutiny. I hope for your sake, as well as mine, that we’re able to find a more peaceful way to express criticism and discontent for the actions of our fellow people—and that the institutions of the world grow enough of a backbone to stand up against internet hate mobs.”

It’s hard, of course, to fight against mob mentality, especially since most of us are on social media because we want to be liked. It’s so much easier, then, to just think like the crowd – or to give in to their demands.

“When we share our thoughts on social media, we’re generally hoping for validation. A simple web search will reveal that people have begun discussing the possibility that many in our society are now addicted to likes. By extension, our desire to be accepted can impact our ability to be objective in the face of online bullying. In fact, it may contribute to our willingness to join the mob. 

“This collection of naysayers may be completely well-intentioned but could be making decisions and forming opinions based on irrational thought. Once this groupthink sets in, an ‘us versus them’ attitude can dominate any discussion. When members of the group don’t want to dissent for fear of rejection, the mob mentality will prevail.”

At the end of the day, being human means learning to think for ourselves – and to accept that others may not think as we do.

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Image credit: Photo by Daria Nepriakhina [TAG1] on Unsplash

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