Yesterday, we reported that Sports Illustrated had been publishing articles by fake writers with AI-generated profile pictures.

Worse, one source alleged, at least some of the posts themselves were AI-generated as well.

"The content is absolutely AI-generated," they said, "no matter how much they say that it's not."

In response, Sports Illustrated's publisher The Arena Group issued a wordy statement. Let's just paste it here:

Today, an article was published alleging that Sports Illustrated published AI-generated articles. According to our initial investigation, this is not accurate.

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.

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.

As far as we can tell, they're basically blaming a contractor called AdVon for the fake writers, and saying that they conducted an "investigation" in which they asked the contractor whether the posts were AI-generated and were told that they were not.

Not quite convinced by that dubious denial? Neither are we — and neither were people online, who have been absolutely dunking on the tepid response.

No Laying Up editorial director Kevin Van Valkenburg, for instance, zoomed in on the eyebrow-raising claim that the fake writers named in our story would need to use pseudonyms to publish milquetoast articles about sporting equipment.

"The idea that 'Sora Tanaka' and 'Ben Ortiz' were just nome de plumes for real writers who wanted to publish important journalism like 'How to get into volleyball' but felt they needed to remain anonymous is too stupid to even contemplate," he quipped.

And ESPN director Matt Ufford, for instance, called the statement "pathetic" and "an insult to anyone who has ever worked for Sports Illustrated."

Writer Victoria Zeller was even more blunt, blasting the statement as a "blatant ridiculous lie."

Others took issue with the ridiculous claim that the contractor would have cooked up phony writers, outfitted them with fake biographies and AI-generated headshots, and then published only non-AI content under their bylines.

"While our vendor completely bamboozled us with their fake reporters with AI-generated profile pics, we believe them when they say their articles were not AI-generated," wrote data journalist Dan Nguyen in another searing post.

By carefully zooming in on just one aspect of our reporting, The Arena Group didn't just dodge the main allegations of our story. It also avoided grappling with impactful criticisms, like the fact that it pointedly attached AI-generated images of fictional Asian and Black to its fake bylines, creating astroturf diversity in an industry that is anything but diverse.

Others called out SI's management for its cowardice in turning off the replies on the posted PR-approved statement.

"HAL 9000 turned off replies to its tweet insisting it only wants what's best for you," another reader joked.

Many readers fixated on the fact that the statement had no byline, speculating — facetiously, but maybe with a grain of truth given the overall wildness of the story — that the statement itself might have been generated by AI.

By "releasing this statement from an unnamed spokesperson, they are never beating the AI accusations," another observer wrote.

"Thank you for that human emotion filled explanation, fellow robot," wrote blogger Roy L. Pickering Jr.

Bottom line? By latching onto AI-generated content and failing to provide real transparency when they were caught, The Arena Group has tarnished a storied magazine that was once seen as the crème de la crème of sports journalism.

Disclosure: Futurism's parent company, Recurrent Ventures, previously worked with AdVon in 2022 via its partnership to distribute select content on third-party e-commerce platforms. This content was written by Recurrent’s contributors. Presently, Recurrent maintains a business relationship with them to test Commerce content internationally for select brands (of which Futurism is not one). AdVon content has never been published on Futurism or any of Recurrent’s websites.

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