Sports Illustrated’s Latest Setback: Fake Authors Exposed

Three years ago, journalists at Sports Illustrated were concerned about the magazine’s new owners and operators lowering its standards. The journalists also wanted better pay, greater transparency during the hiring process and a guarantee that all work published on the Sports Illustrated website would be edited.

It appears that things have not improved since then.

On Monday, the science and technology publication Futurism reported that Sports Illustrated had published product reviews under fake author names with fake author biographies. Futurism could find no evidence that the supposed authors were real, and the photographs with the bios could be found on websites that sell artificial intelligence-generated headshots.

The Arena Group, which publishes Sports Illustrated under a complicated management structure, blamed a vendor, AdVon Commerce, for the situation. Arena has now ended its partnership with AdVon and is investigating its assurances that artificial intelligence was not used to write the articles. According to Arena, AdVon said it used “both counterplagiarism and counter-A.I. software.” But AdVon markets itself to potential customers as a company deeply involved in artificial intelligence.

In 2019, the media conglomerate Meredith sold Sports Illustrated’s intellectual property to the Authentic Brands Group. It also sold a 10-year license to publish Sports Illustrated to TheMaven, which has since been rebranded as the Arena Group. Since the sale, there have been repeated rounds of layoffs at Sports Illustrated and reductions in the circulation of the print magazine.

The stewardship by Authentic Brands and Arena has been rocky, with employees complaining publicly about the dismissive attitudes towards concerns about article quality and a lack of editors. Last month, the newspaper publisher Gannett found itself in a situation very similar to Sports Illustrated’s. Product reviews on a site that Gannett owns, Reviewed, looked suspiciously like articles not written by humans, and nobody who works for Reviewed recognized the purported authors.

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