Sports Illustrated Publisher Fires CEO After Controversy Over AI-Written Articles

The magazine was accused of publishing AI-generated articles under fake author profiles for its website.

Sports Illustrated Publisher Fires CEO After Controversy Over AI-Written Articles

Ross Levinsohn was fired as the CEO of Arena Group.

Sports Illustrated's publisher the Arena Group fired its CEO Ross Levinsohn in response to public outcry over the publication's use of artificial intelligence to write articles. The company also named Manoj Bhargava as interim CEO. In a statement released on its website on Monday, the media behemoth announced the departure of Mr Levinsohn at the same time as its board members convened to discuss ways to "improve (the company's) operational efficiency and revenue." The magazine was accused of publishing AI-generated articles under fake author profiles for its website.

The controversy was brought to light by Futurism, a science and technology outlet on November 28. They stated that some of the author bios did not relate to any real human being. Citing an example, the outlet said, Drew Oritz, wrote in his profile that he "has spent much of his life outdoors, and is excited to guide you through his never-ending list of the best products to keep you from falling to the perils of nature. Nowadays, there is rarely a weekend that goes by where Drew isn't out camping, hiking, or just back on his parents' farm." However, Mr Oritz does not 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'," the outlet wrote in their report. They also added that "AI authors' writing often sounds like it was written by an alien".

On November 28, the magazine reacted to these allegations and said on X, "Today, an article was published alleging that Sports Illustrated published AI-generated articles. According to our initial investigation, this is not accurate." 

They blamed a third-party company, AdVon Commerce and said that they were in the middle of a review when these allegations were brought to light. "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," they added.

Further, Sports Illustrated said that the third-party company assured them that the articles were written by humans. "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," they concluded.

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