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Sports Illustrated reportedly published articles from fake AI authors

Sports Illustrated reportedly published articles from fake AI authors


The legacy publication is the latest to get caught publishing what appears to be AI-generated content — and there are connections to a marketing agency that’s already been in the news for potentially using AI.

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Image: The Verge

Sports Illustrated published articles that were attributed to fake AI-generated authors, according to reporting by Futurism. The authors include “Drew Ortiz,” who’s “spent much of his life outdoors,” and “Sora Tanaka,” who is “a fitness guru, and loves to try different foods and drinks.”

Futurism found the associated author headshots for sale on an AI-generated image website, and someone involved in the creation of the content told the outlet that there are “a lot” of similar fake writers. Rachael Fink, a spokesperson for The Arena Group, which publishes Sports Illustrated, disputed the suggestion that the stories themselves are AI-generated.

An author page for “Drew Ortiz” with a detailed bio and headshot.
“Drew Ortiz” grew up in a farmhouse. His face is also for sale on an AI headshot website.

After Futurism reached out to The Arena Group, the fake writers disappeared. On articles bearing the AI-generated writers’ bylines, there’s a disclaimer: “This content is created by a 3rd party,” it reads in part. “The Sports Illustrated editorial staff are not involved in the creation of this content.”

I’ve heard that before — in October, a similar disclaimer appeared atop articles published by Reviewed, a consumer reviews site from the publisher Gannett. In that case, staff at the site accused their employer of publishing obviously AI-generated content; Gannett spokesperson Lark-Marie Anton told The Verge at the time that a third-party firm had produced the stories and that Gannett confirmed the material wasn’t AI-generated.

Whether it’s AI or not, there seems to be one company behind the strange articles on both Reviewed and Sports Illustrated.

A company called AdVon Commerce produced the maybe-AI-maybe-not-AI reviews for Gannett, according to the disclaimer that appeared on those stories — Gannett wrote that it had partnered with a company called ASR Group Holdings, which is another name AdVon Commerce uses, according to job listings. On LinkedIn, AdVon describes itself as offering “ML / AI solutions for E Commerce.”

The stories on Sports Illustrated link back to AdVon, too. The author page for Sports Illustrated AI writer “Sora Tanaka” lists the email address as her contact information. A quick Google search reveals that that email address is listed for several other writers credited on other websites owned by The Arena Group. Some of them actually do appear to be real people with LinkedIn profiles — and they all say they work at AdVon Commerce.

I reached out to AdVon and asked whether the company was working with The Arena Group and whether its authors were authentic but did not hear back before publishing.

Fink, The Arena Group spokesperson, confirmed that AdVon worked on the articles and said that the partnership was “in the midst of a review when [the AI-generated] allegations were raised.” Fink says AdVon assured The Arena Group that all articles were written and edited by humans.

“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,” Fink said in an email.

Is AdVon producing mountains of AI-generated content for publishers and passing it off as human work? Or do publications just not care? Either way, it’s not very hard to spot — and pretty embarrassing when it’s called out.

Update 5:43PM ET: Added comment from The Arena Group spokesperson Rachael Fink.