Sports Illustrated caught publishing articles created by non-existent AI-generated writers
12/04/2023 // Cassie B. // Views

Sports Illustrated was once considered the gold standard in sports print journalism, winning several National Magazine Awards and publishing work by luminaries such as William Faulkner. Now, however, they are churning out AI-generated articles and tacking on fake writer names and bios at the end, complete with phony AI-generated headshots designed to trick readers into believing that a professional wrote them.

This is according to a comprehensive exposé by Futurism in which writer Maggie Harrison (who, we should point out, is a real person) demonstrated in painstaking detail how the once-mighty outlet has gone out of its way to avoid paying real professionals to write its content.

Much of the content in question is product reviews and features – the type of articles many major publishers have been producing en masse to take advantage of their high ranking in Google to earn some affiliate income when readers click on the products they recommend.

While it was somewhat unusual that the author of some of these articles, Drew Ortiz, did not seem to have any type of social media presence or publishing history outside of his work for Sports Illustrated, it is not unusual for writers to use a pen name in the age of doxing, even those who do not write about sensitive topics. In addition, plenty of writers are aware of the perils of social media and wish to remain anonymous.

So while the writer's lack of an online presence may not have been a red flag on its own, one thing that was very odd was the fact that Ortiz's profile photo on Sports Illustrated was for sale on a website peddling headshots created by AI. Perhaps one writer who is particularly concerned about online privacy might be tempted to use an AI photo for their bio, this turned out to be a trend across most, if not all, of these types of articles on the SI site, all with their own names and AI headshots that can be bought on the same site.

Predictably, many of the articles written by AI that were posted by Sports Illustrated made ludicrous statements that use the type of strange logic ChatGPT and its competitors are known for. One “Drew Ortiz” article said that volleyball "can be a little tricky to get into, especially without an actual ball to practice with."

The publication's use of AI to generate articles was confirmed by a source, who told Futurism: "The content is absolutely AI-generated, no matter how much they say that it's not."

Another source who was involved with the creation of the content spoke about the fake authors with Harrison. "There's a lot," they said. "I was like, what are they? This is ridiculous. This person does not exist."

Moreover, when Futurism contacted the publisher of Sports Illustrated, The Arena Group, to ask them about this matter, all of the AI-generated authors suddenly vanished from the SI website without any explanation.

Futurism also noted that Sports Illustrated occasionally scrubs these AI personas and replaces them with different ones. For example, they report that Ortiz disappeared from the site this summer and his profile page then redirected visitors to one belonging to a woman named “Sora Tanaka,” who also has no online presence as a writer and whose headshot is also found on the same website selling AI headshots as Ortiz’s. All of his articles were suddenly written by Tanaka instead.

Other sites also published AI content by non-existent writers with fake headshots

The Arena Group also supplies content for TheStreet, a once-reputable financial publication that was caught using the same tactics, complete with AI headshots and oddly worded content with no disclosures about their usage of AI.

One article, for example, said that "your financial status translates to your value in society" and was followed by a five-point list in which each of the five points was numbered 1 rather than 1 through 5. Do they really expect readers to trust this person’s financial advice?

The use of AI in journalism is not just troubling for legitimate writers who are trying to make a living using a skill they have honed over several decades in many cases, making a careful effort to connect with readers and create engaging content; it is also insulting to consumers who expect to read something that an actual human being who cares about sharing something useful with the world spent time researching, writing and perfecting. How do these sites expect people to spend their time reading their articles when they aren’t even willing to make a minimal effort in paying someone to write and edit them?

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