Sports Illustrated Published AI-Generated Articles Under Fake Names

Sports Illustrated

Sports Illustrated was once the benchmark for sports content but today the site has been accused of publishing AI-generated content under the names of authors who are also AI-generated. Case in point, Drew Ortiz who had a photo and an author biography on the site.


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.”…

Sometime this summer…Ortiz disappeared from Sports Illustrated‘s site entirely, his profile page instead redirecting to that of a “Sora Tanaka.” Again, there’s no online record of a writer by that name — but Tanaka’s profile picture is for sale on the same AI headshot marketplace as Ortiz, where she’s listed as “joyful asian young-adult female with long brown hair and brown eyes.”

Futurism, the site that broke this story, talked to a couple of employees (real ones) who were involved. They confirm it wasn’t just the authors who were machine generated.

“There’s a lot,” they told us of the fake authors. “I was like, what are they? This is ridiculous. This person does not exist.”…

According to a second person involved in the creation of the Sports Illustrated content who also asked to be kept anonymous, that’s because it’s not just the authors’ headshots that are AI-generated. At least some of the articles themselves, they said, were churned out using AI as well.


When the site asked Sports Illustrated about the articles, all of them suddenly disappeared. Later a spokesperson for the publisher told them that an outside advertiser had put together those articles but that advertiser had assured them the articles were written by humans. But what about the fake authors and headshots? The publisher didn’t have anything to say about that.

The union for the site’s writers said real authors were horrified by the report.

“We, the workers of the SI Union, are horrified by a story on the site Futurism,” the missive began. “If true, these practices violate everything we believe about journalism. We deplore being associated with something so disrespectful to our readers.”

It continued, “We demand answers and transparency from [parent group] Arena Group management about what exactly has been published under the SI name. We demand the company adhere to basic journalistic standards, including not publishing computer-written stories by fake people.”

Here’s the full statement.

And here’s the response from The Arena Group.


The rest of the statement reads:

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 strongly condemn – and we are removing the content while our internal investigation continues and have since ended the partnership.

But as Futurism pointed out, the articles themselves sound a bit off. For instance, this post about buying a volleyball is pretty weird: [emphasis added]

Even people who don’t watch sports can easily understand the intensity and skill required to play volleyball whenever they watch clips. There’s a reason why it’s been such a mainstay in modern sports to this day. 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…


Is that something a human would write? Similarly, Futurism found non-existent authors being published on another site owned by Arena Publishing. This one is called The Street and included an article by Nicole Merrifield (who doesn’t exist) which opens:

Your financial status translates to your value in society. It not only helps you lead a better life but also creates an impactful image. People with strong financial status are revered and given special advantages everywhere around the world. You may be earning a handsome amount or be well-to-do, but if you don’t have a strong financial standing, you are missing out on a lot of benefits from society.

I wrote about Buzzfeed’s terrible AI-generated content back in March. Google was reportedly also testing out an AI tool to write news content this summer and pitching it to major newspapers as a digital assistant for journalists.

Google is testing a product that uses artificial intelligence technology to produce news stories, pitching it to news organizations including The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal’s owner, News Corp, according to three people familiar with the matter.

The tool, known internally by the working title Genesis, can take in information — details of current events, for example — and generate news content, the people said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the product.

One of the three people familiar with the product said that Google believed it could serve as a kind of personal assistant for journalists, automating some tasks to free up time for others, and that the company saw it as responsible technology that could help steer the publishing industry away from the pitfalls of generative A.I.


Would we know if some of these sites were already using it? I think we would, at least in 2023, but the AI tools seem to improve ever few months. In a few more years it might become really difficult to tell.

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John Stossel 5:30 PM | July 13, 2024