Sports Illustrated Freaks Out, Deletes Evidence Of AI-Generated Journalists Writing AI-Generated Articles

Sports Illustrated has been busted using AI-generated journalists to ‘write’ AI-generated articles, and then freaked out and deleted the evidence after one of their webdevs dropped the dime on them.

According to an in-depth investigative report by Futurism;

There was nothing in Drew Ortiz’s author biography at Sports Illustrated to suggest that he was anything other than human.

“Drew has spent much of his life outdoors, and is excited to guide you through his never-ending list of the best products to keep you from falling to the perils of nature,” it read. “Nowadays, there is rarely a weekend that goes by where Drew isn’t out camping, hiking, or just back on his parents’ farm.”

The only problem? Outside of Sports Illustrated, Drew Ortiz doesn’t seem to exist. He has no social media presence and no publishing history. And even more strangely, his profile photo on Sports Illustrated is for sale on a website that sells AI-generated headshots, where he’s described as “neutral white young-adult male with short brown hair and blue eyes.”

It wasn’t just ‘Drew Ortiz’ either… The outlet used multiple AI-generated ‘journalists,’ according to a person involved in the creation of the content who asked to remain anonymous.

“There’s a lot,” said the source. “I was like, what are they? This is ridiculous. This person does not exist.”

“At the bottom [of the page] there would be a photo of a person and some fake description of them like, ‘oh, John lives in Houston, Texas. He loves yard games and hanging out with his dog, Sam.’ Stuff like that,” the said, adding “It’s just crazy.

‘Alien’ AI writing

A second whistleblower involved in the creation of the AI content told Futurism that it’s not just the headshots – entire articles were churned out using AI as well.

In one instance of Ortiz’s writing described by Futurism as ‘alien,’ the article warns that volleyball “can be a little tricky to get into, especially without an actual ball to practice with.”

What?

“The content is absolutely AI-generated,” said the second source, adding “no matter how much they say that it’s not.”

After Futurism reached out to Sports Illustrated publisher, The Arena Group, all of the AI authors mysteriously disappeared.

Damage control

Arena, after initially ghosting Futurism‘s inquiries, blamed a 3rd party contractor.

Today, an article was published alleging that Sports Illustrated published AI-generated articles. According to our initial investigation, this is not accurate. The articles in question were product reviews and were licensed content from an external, third-party company, AdVon Commerce. A number of AdVon’s e-commerce articles ran on certain Arena websites. We continually monitor our partners and were in the midst of a review when these allegations were raised. AdVon has assured us that all of the articles in question were written and edited by humans. According to AdVon, their writers, editors, and researchers create and curate content and follow a policy that involves using both counter-plagiarism and counter-AI software on all content. However, we have learned that AdVon had writers use a pen or pseudo name in certain articles to protect author privacy — actions we don’t condone — and we are removing the content while our internal investigation continues and have since ended the partnership.

As Futurism notes, however, “It sounds like The Arena Group’s investigation pretty much just involved asking AdVon whether the content was AI-generated, and taking them at their word when they said it wasn’t. Our sources familiar with the creation of the content disagree.”

The statement also never addresses the core allegation of our story: that Sports Illustrated published content from nonexistent writers with AI-generated headshots. The implication seems to be that AdVon invented fake writers, assigned them fake biographies and AI-generated headshots, and then stopped right there, only publishing content written by old-fashioned humans. Maybe that’s true, but we doubt it.

Regardless, the AI content marks a staggering fall from grace for Sports Illustrated, which in past decades won numerous National Magazine Awards for its sports journalism and published work by literary giants ranging from William Faulkner to John Updike.

But now that it’s under the management of The Arena Group, parts of the magazine seem to have devolved into a Potemkin Village in which phony writers are cooked up out of thin air, outfitted with equally bogus biographies and expertise to win readers’ trust, and used to pump out AI-generated buying guides that are monetized by affiliate links to products that provide a financial kickback when readers click them.

Hilariously, after Sports Illustrated scrubbed ‘Drew Ortiz’ from the site entirely, his profile picture redirected to another AI generated bio – of one “Sora Tanaka.”

There’s no evidence of Sora outside this profile, but ‘her’ picture is for sale on the same AI headshot marketplace as Ortiz!

Tanaka too eventually disappeared, replaced by another profile with no headshot at all – which was then deleted too.

Other Arena Group outlets doing it too?

The rabbit hole goes even deeper, according to Futurism, which also reports that similar AI-generated authors and articles have been found on The Street.

Take TheStreet, a financial publication cofounded by Jim Cramer in 1996 that The Arena Group bought for $16.5 million in 2019. Like at Sports Illustrated, we found authors at TheStreet with highly specific biographies detailing seemingly flesh-and-blood humans with specific areas of expertise but with profile photos traceable to that same AI face website. And like at Sports Illustrated, these fake writers are periodically wiped from existence and their articles reattributed to new names, with no disclosure about the use of AI.

Sometimes TheStreet’s efforts to remove the fake writers can be sloppy. On its review section’s title page, for instance, the site still proudly flaunts the expertise of AI-generated contributors who have since been deleted, linking to writer profiles it describes as ranging “from stay-at-home dads to computer and information analysts.” This team, the site continues, “is comprised of a well-rounded group of people who bring varying backgrounds and experiences to the table.” -Futurism

Read the rest here…

Meanwhile, shares of Arena plunged 21% on Tuesday.

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