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Arena Group? More like AIrena Group. Am I right?

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Who could have ever predicted that an “innovative technology platform and media company” would get caught disrupting the publishing paradigm with programmatic content and content creators?

Certainly not the people who thought no one would notice that Sports Illustrated was running advertorials by computer-generated text and writers.

There was nothing in Drew Ortiz’s author biography at Sports Illustrated to suggest that he was anything other than human.

“Drew 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,” it read. “Nowadays, there is rarely a weekend that goes by where Drew isn’t out camping, hiking, or just back on his parents’ farm.”

The only problem? 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.”

Drew 10101011001 was later replaced by another personAI. And what’s the point of using computer-generated bios without using computer-generated content?

The AI authors’ writing often sounds like it was written by an alien; one Ortiz article, for instance, warns that volleyball “can be a little tricky to get into, especially without an actual ball to practice with.”

Indeed.

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.

No wait, it gets weirder.

It wasn’t just author profiles that the magazine repeatedly replaced. Each time an author was switched out, the posts they supposedly penned would be reattributed to the new persona, with no editor’s note explaining the change in byline.

Go ahead. Tell a journalist – or anyone for that matter – that you’re going to attribute their work to some other person, just because.

Good luck. And good bye.

TheStreet, another AG product, has also published the works of computer-generated writers.

Though Sports Illustrated’s AI-generated authors and their articles disappeared after we asked about them, similar operations appear to be alive and well elsewhere in The Arena Group’s portfolio.

Take TheStreet, a financial publication cofounded by Jim Cramer in 1996 that The Arena Group bought for $16.5 million in 2019. Like at Sports Illustrated, we found authors at TheStreet with highly specific biographies detailing seemingly flesh-and-blood humans with specific areas of expertise — but with profile photos traceable to that same AI face website. And like at Sports Illustrated, these fake writers are periodically wiped from existence and their articles reattributed to new names, with no disclosure about the use of AI.

One week later:

Sports Illustrated publisher The Arena Group has fired two senior executives, COO Andrew Kraft and President Rob Barrett, following its recent AI fiasco.

Arena blamed the ai-dvertorials on a third party that produced the pieces, but mumbled around why SI didn’t flag the articles as third-party content. Of course.

It also denied that the firings were related to Futurism’s reporting. Sure. Whatever. But those positions should still be replaced with something more useful than the average C-suite denizen of a large company. Like a coffee maker and a decent multi-function printer.

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