The company has been using the website to distribute misleading and oftentimes incomprehensible garbage to hundreds of millions of readers per month.
As CNN now reports, that's likely in large part due to MSN's decision to lay off most of the human editors at MSN over the years. In the wake of that culling, the company has redirected its efforts toward AI, culminating in a $10 billion stake in ChatGPT maker OpenAI earlier this year.
And if MSN presents a vision of how the tech industry's obsession with AI is going to play out in the information ecosystem, we're in for a rough ride.
Beyond republishing stories by small, unknown publishers — like the one that infamously called former NBA player Brandon Hunter, who passed away unexpectedly at the age of 42 in September, "useless" in its headline — Microsoft using a variety of tactics to shoehorn AI into its MSN.
Sometimes it's even generating AI content itself, like when it published and then deleted a bizarre travel guide to Ottawa, Canada that recommended visiting a food bank "on an empty stomach."
"This article has been removed and we are investigating how it made it through our review process," Microsoft's senior director of communications said in the wake of the embarrassment.
Most recently, the tech giant landed in hot water for running a disgusting AI-generated poll next to a syndicated article by The Guardian about a woman who'd been found dead in Australia.
The tasteless poll questioned whether readers thought the woman had died by suicide, murder, or accident, noting in a disclaimer that the poll was part of Microsoft's "insights from AI."
The Guardian accused Microsoft of "damaging its journalistic reputation" by publishing the poll. In response, a Microsoft spokesperson said that the company has deactivated its poll feature and is "investigating the cause of the inappropriate content."
MSN has also published other junk content, including bogus stories about fishermen catching mermaids and Bigfoot spottings in the wake of ditching its human editors in favor of automation.
Noticing a pattern yet? The company pumps out trash-tier AI content, then waits until it's called out publicly to quietly delete it and move onto the next trainwreck.
Former editors at MSN are aghast.
"We had a really tight knit, super talented editorial team and we had all worked together for a long time," Ryn Pfeuffer, who worked intermittently under contract with Microsoft as an MSN lifestyle editor, but was laid off in 2020, told CNN.
"I don’t think people realize how many people use [MSN]," she added. "You had to be responsible what you put on the site because so many people would read it and could be swayed by it."
Now that Microsoft has transitioned to a "personalized feed" that is "tailored by an algorithm to the interests of our audiences" back in 2020, as a spokesperson told the broadcaster, a lot of badly researched, and easily disproven content has the potential to be seen by millions of users.
"We are committed to addressing the recent issue of low quality articles contributed to the feed and are working closely with our content partners to identify and address issues to ensure they are meeting our standards," a spokesperson told CNN this week, following the ill-advised poll.
Whether the company's concerns will result in meaningful action, however, remains to be seen. It certainly doesn't bode well for the future of AI in media, an industry already facing considerable economic headwinds.
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