After Spam, Slop: The New Internet Nuisance

After Spam, Slop: The New Internet Nuisance

Spam, the curse of the Internet, has found an annoying replacement: slop. This new practice has emerged with the rise of generative AI and has invaded social networks. But what exactly is slop?

Like many people, you're probably inundated every day with unsolicited messages, whether by email or SMS. This is what we call spam. Some of these messages are purely advertising in nature: their main aim is to lure you into a commercial offer and, secondarily, to track you by establishing your consumption profile, which they can then resell. This type of spam clogs up your mailbox but is generally harmless. However, other types of spam are genuinely dangerous: phishing attempts designed to steal money through various scams. After years of fighting spam, Internet users now face a new and equally problematic practice: slop.

Slop: Beware of Generative AI Productions

As the New York Times explains, the term "slop" originally referred to the sludge that collects at the bottom of oil tankers. However, it gradually took on a new meaning, first on forums popular with Internet enthusiasts such as 4Chan and Hacker News, before landing in the comments section on YouTube. Today, slop refers to poor-quality, intrusive, and unwanted content generated by artificial intelligence. This can include fake images, fake videos made by AI, absurd answers given by chatbots, or even mediocre online articles churned out by AI tools like ChatGPT, without relevance or veracity. The aim is to mislead Internet users into believing that the content has been created by a human, generate advertising revenue, and direct the attention of search engines to other sites.

On Facebook, for example, there are numerous AI-generated images of photos promoted by the social network's algorithms. Masquerading as real photos, they seek to lure an unsuspecting public to external sites, usually fake ad-filled media, dropshipping sites, or malware pages designed to steal personal data. Similarly, slop can manifest as cheap books on Amazon written using ChatGPT, or Google suggesting you add non-toxic glue to your pizza to make the cheese stick.

British programmer Simon Willison was one of the first to promote the use of the term "slop." In his view, it's important to attach a name to the phenomenon to give the public the means to define the problem precisely and thus warn Internet users of the danger. The word gained popularity last May when Google incorporated its Gemini chatbot into the results generated by its search engine. It wasn't long before the AI was making one mistake after another, such as declaring that astronauts had found cats on the Moon.

"Before the term 'spam' went mainstream, it wasn't necessarily clear to everyone that unwanted marketing messages were a bad way to behave. I hope 'slop' will have the same impact: making people understand that generating and publishing unedited AI-generated content is bad behavior," concludes Simon Willison in the Guardian.