Sports Illustrated caught offside with fake AI writers

December 1, 2023

Sports Illustrated received a lot of unwanted attention when it became clear that the popular magazine had been using AI to write articles attributed to fake personas.

Tech publication Futurism first highlighted the issue when it pointed out that the bios and headshots of some of the magazine’s authors were obvious fakes. For example, here is the bio and headshot for a writer called Drew Ortiz.

Drew Ortiz bio. Source: Sports Illustrated

A search for any social media presence for Drew comes up empty and it’s hardly surprising when you see that his AI-generated headshot is available for download from Generated Photos.

AI-generated headshot. Source: Generated Photos

The suspect articles are mostly product review articles. When you read an article attributed to ‘Drew Ortiz’ it becomes obvious it was written by AI. Here’s an excerpt from an article about choosing the best full-size volleyballs.

“Volleyball can be a little tricky to get into, especially without an actual ball to practice with. You’ll have to drill in the fundamentals in your head before you can really play the game the way it was meant to be played, and for that, you’ll need a dedicated space to practice and a full-sized volleyball.”

AI content detectors are notoriously unreliable, but Copyleaks confirms this is likely AI-generated.

When Sports Illustrated was asked about the fake bios and AI articles they were promptly removed from their website.

In response to the Futurism exposé the publishers of Sports Illustrated, The Arena Group, put out a statement denying that the content was written by AI and saying that it wasn’t actually their fault anyway.

The statement said in part, “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.”

Basically they’re saying, ‘AdVon says it was written by humans so we’re going to claim plausible deniability.’

Union response

The Sports Illustrated Union which represents its writers was understandably incensed to hear that AI-written stories by fake people were being published under the Sports Illustrated name.

The scathing statement from the union was signed, “The Humans of SI Union” which, until AI writers unionize, represents 100% of its membership.

The future of journalism?

Sports Illustrated has been struggling financially over the last few years with half of its newsroom laid off in 2019. It was probably inevitable that the cost-saving allure of AI writers made it from boardroom whispers to published reality.

In February this year, The Arena Group announced a partnership with AI writing tool suppliers Jasper and Nota.

In the announcement Ross Levinsohn, Chairman and CEO of The Arena Group, said, “While AI will never replace journalism, reporting, or crafting and editing a story, rapidly improving AI technologies can create enterprise value for our brands and partners.”

Well, you can’t say they didn’t warn you. When a publication with this kind of reputation publishes AI-written articles and fake bios you’ve got to wonder what’s next for journalism.

Will we see AI models grace the cover of the next edition of the iconic Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition?

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Eugene van der Watt

Eugene comes from an electronic engineering background and loves all things tech. When he takes a break from consuming AI news you'll find him at the snooker table.


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