The Scoop: Sports Illustrated accused of passing off AI-written articles as human-created copy

Plus: Spotify Wrapped for 2023 is here.

Sports Illustrated was the go-to source for in-depth interviews and features on top of athletes for decades. While the magazine still does impressive work from time to time, it’s in the news for an off-the-field issue — allegedly presenting AI-generated content as human-authored stories — and promptly deleting it when caught.

In an investigative report, Futurism found that authors within SI’s product review team didn’t have any sort of presence outside of the sports site, on social media, in the publishing world, or otherwise. A deeper dive found that a profile photo for one of the authors was for sale on a website that peddles AI-generated images of nonexistent people, furthering the proof that the authors in question weren’t real people.

Sports Illustrated’s publisher, The Arena Group, denied the accusations of AI-generated content and said that the fabricated profiles were put in place in the name of protecting the privacy of the authors. But insiders dispute this. The Futurism report posits that The Arena Group asked the outside contractor behind the seemingly AI-generated material if the content in question came from an AI source, and took them at their word when the contractor said it wasn’t, despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary.

An anonymous source at Sports Illustrated said that the content in question was authored by AI bots, regardless of what the publication said.

Why it matters

Beyond the bad look of seemingly deceiving your audience, Sports Illustrated managed to make a bad situation look even worse through denial of an obvious misstep. Sports Illustrated earned trust over decades of quality work and has  a responsibility to readers and the public to be honest  – but that trust has been badly dented by the incident

That obligation to transparency goes for any organization or content creator, not just news outlets.

Beyond the misrepresentation of the content, the biggest problem here is the double down on denial. The idea that these fake profiles were created to “protect author privacy” just doesn’t pass the sniff test for consumers. It’s damaging to the credibility of the publication and by extension, the real human beings on staff there that make decisions. It sounds so basic, but when you err in the public eye, your organization needs to step up and own it. If you just keep leaning into the deception, you’re setting yourself up to be raked over the coals publicly, just as Sports Illustrated is right now.

Will Sports Illustrated’s reputation recover from this? Perhaps yes, perhaps no. But there’s now a cautionary tale out there for any other media outlet thinking of stretching the truth about where its content originates.

Editor’s Top Picks

  • Spotify Wrapped is here again. Taylor Swift took the top spot as the most streamed artist both in the United States and across the globe. This year’s edition of Wrapped has some new features that come from data collection, including Me in 2023, which assigns listeners one of 12 characters based on the way they consume audio content on Spotify, and Sound Town, which matches them with a city based on listening habits. Adding these fun little tweaks to Wrapped stand to make it even more shareable among social users over these final weeks of the year.
  • Amazon unveiled their new AI chatbot, Q. While it’s not intended for use by the general public, it is aimed at assisting employees in their daily tasks. With the meteoric rise of generative AI over the last year, it’s not surprising to see Amazon throw its hat into the AI ring. Amazon is presenting its chatbot as a more secure solution to generative AI chatbots, which have come with their fair share of privacy concerns. Amazon’s bot can be programmed to not give sensitive information to groups of people who don’t need it, thus adding more security. Perhaps more steps in this direction will address the many security concerns that presently exist with regard to AI chatbots like ChatGPT.
  • Google Maps has a new look, and as with anything on the internet, not everyone is happy about it. Some of the more critical responses claim that the new Google Maps swapped its old color palette for “colder, less human” tones that are seemingly more reminiscent of the competing Apple Maps. The lesson? If you’ve got a product that people are used to, be careful when you’re thinking about making changes to it. Even if you think they’re minor, people will notice.

Sean Devlin is an editor at Ragan Communications. In his spare time he enjoys Philly sports, a good pint and ’90s trivia night.


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