Sports Illustrated, AI, and a New Kind of Scandal

by | Feb 6, 2024 | Business

Journalists who cover sports love a good scandal. They will be able to publish multiple articles as the details unfold, ensuring a continuous cycle of clickbait for as long as the scandal can remain in the spotlight, or at least until the next one unfolds. Unfortunately for one major sports publisher, they are not the ones covering the story; they are the story.

Popular sports magazine Sports Illustrated recently found themselves engulfed in controversy when it was discovered that they were using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to write articles published on their website while crediting the writing to a human being, or so they wanted readers to believe. 

Futurism, an online news source, published an article that pointed out the errors on the Sports Illustrated website. They also pointed out the clearly dubious writing style and the fake profiles of the so-called authors. While The Arena Group, the publisher of Sports Illustrated, denied the allegations, Futurism did manage to spot the sudden deletion of such articles and supposed writers from the site only to see new ones emerge.

The articles in question were not delivering the latest feature story on a prolific NFL quarterback or the next great female tennis player but rather focused on providing information about products to consumers, which, to some, could be an even worse tragedy. Consumers rely on information from industry experts to help them make informed decisions about products and services they will spend money on.

If you’re looking to keep yourself out of your own sports scandal, here are some helpful tips to remember:

Build Trust 

While artificial intelligence continues to find its way into everyday technology conversations, there is no doubt each of us has in some way interacted with AI. Whether it is a chatbot on a website or you found yourself experimenting with programs like Chat GPT, the allure of AI is everywhere. It seemed it was only a matter of time before it found its way into major publications.

For small businesses looking to increase their digital footprint, they may turn to artificial intelligence to improve their return on investment. Almost instantly generating content, AI can seemingly be a lifesaver for businesses that need to produce information quickly but may not have the resources to create something original. Unfortunately, the information produced by AI technology is nothing more than duplicated content.

For those seeking to establish themselves as the go-to source for product information, the use of AI can quickly turn a company’s credibility into nothing more than words on a screen, as is the case with Sports Illustrated. Like a relationship gone wrong, those who once believed in the credibility of the publication’s command of the sports world are left with a distrust of its content and more questions than answers about whether what they are reading is true or not.

Choose Your Words Wisely [H2]

One of the challenges that Sports Illustrated faced was the use of a third party to create the content that they published. While it can’t be said for certain, the third party appeared to use AI-generated content, and the publisher did not take time to vet that content to ensure not only its accuracy but its consistency as compared to human-created content.

Although AI has advanced to pass through most plagiarism-checking tools, there is no tool greater than the human mind. As in the case of Sports Illustrated, the text just didn’t seem to fit. With odd phrasing and sporadic details, even the most casual readers may think to themselves, “That doesn’t make much sense.” The credibility of the publisher, however, can quickly dismiss these doubts because to even the most casual reader, there is no way a big publication like Sports Illustrated got it wrong, they only hire professional writers, so they must know what they are doing.

Educators have long taught students not to trust everything on the internet and subsequently taught them how to find validity in what they research or what they read. Sports Illustrated would have been one of those sites they are likely to trust because of its long-standing credibility. However, their use of a third party for content without the proper checks and balances has now damaged their reputation and put larger doubt into the consumer psyche about what is trustworthy and what is not.

Experience Can Go A Long Way [H2]

Sports Illustrated isn’t fully to blame for what happened. The third-party who provided them the content should have known better. AdVon Commerce produced the articles in question and even provided AI-generated bios for the supposed human writers. While claiming these writers had knowledge that was specifically related to the products in question, they simply allowed AI-generated material to guide the decision-making.

Unfortunately, those who rely on AI don’t think about the human experience. They rely on what the artificial intelligence deems appropriate based on its own algorithms that find information and randomly piece it together. Sure, it’s cool that it can so cohesively produce material, but the fact remains that it leaves out human instinct and connection.

There is a reason that so many rely on the word of others. Our consumer markets are flooded with options, and price doesn’t always equate to quality. Relying on the perspective of those who have experience with products or services allows us to find a connection with a real person who can speak to what they know.

Remember, To Err Is Human

Sports Illustrated will eventually move past this gaff and reestablish itself at the forefront of all things sports. However, it could have been avoided with a few simple changes in decision-making. The biggest improvement is to remember that nothing will beat the finesse of human characteristics. Sure, over time there have been computers and other technologies that have proven better than humans at some tasks. But in the end, each of these exists because of human intuition, intelligence, and ingenuity.

Technology may help to simplify tasks, encourage growth, and find new ways to improve on setbacks, but it was all created through the trial and error of human hands and minds. Yes, we make mistakes, and we can find ourselves needing to make up for them, but mistakes, too, are a part of human nature. 

Artificial Intelligence does what it is told while imitating thinking and decision-making. But like many sci-fi movies, the decisions are simply a result of their programming and not because they understand. Through a cache of fancy keywords and algorithms that grant it access to an array of information, the only mistake humans make when it comes to AI is believing it can replace us.

Better Content Matters 

There is a reason we believe in what we do. We believe in the humans who work passionately to create original content that lends itself to a perspective that can only be accomplished through the eyes of a human. From generating SEO-focused content to helping the small fish compete in a large pond, our team knows the art of writing matters.
Like any good scandal, this too shall pass. In years to come, it will be cited in arguments about the role of artificial intelligence and become a subsection on Wikipedia. In the here and now, it serves as a poignant reminder of how to avoid a sports scandal. In the end, it all comes down to remembering one thing…Better Content Matters.

Adam Sherman

Adam Sherman