An AI-powered news site falls for a prank on Reddit. This shows the pitfalls of AI publishing without human control. Still, it could work in the medium to long term.
Social media signals attract some algorithms like honey attracts bees. This is precisely the effect that the World of Warcraft community "wow" exploited on Reddit: With a staged fake news story that was then deliberately boosted by Reddit users, they attempted to make it onto the AI-powered gaming news site "The Portal," an automated content marketing portal of the gaming community app "ZLeague".
For the story, the Reddit account "kaefer_kriegerin" invented the character "Glorbo", supposedly new to the WoW world, and provided some context about the fictional character's origin and development history. Some players from the community jumped on the bandwagon, raving enthusiastically about the fake announcement and adding more absurd details to Glorbo's story.
Intended as a trap, but the principle seems to work
Indeed, the site took the bait and went on to generate a full-length article out of the thread. Information from user comments was also incorporated into the story. This pattern of reporting appears in many articles on the site, most often titled "Players discuss…" and then citing a popular Reddit thread in the intro.
The site initially changed the title of the WoW article on "Glorbo" and added "Satire" and later deleted it. An earlier version of the article can be found here. Ironically, the AI even picked up a popular Reddit thread on the topic of AI-generated articles, in which players expressed negative opinions about AI publishing. The AI's rather objective summary of the thread reads:
Many players voiced their frustration with the low quality of the AI-generated articles. User Seiver123 simply found it crazy how people were able to produce such content. Flemtality criticized the lack of effort put into the articles and questioned the effectiveness of blocking the site, as they suspected the creators could easily obtain new domains and continue spamming AI-generated content.
World of Warcraft (WoW) players are clearly frustrated with popular gaming sites that appear to be using AI to scrape content from their subreddit. The suspicion of AI-driven output, the lack of originality and quality, and the desire to block these sites from search results all contribute to the negative sentiment surrounding this issue.
I suspect that all the people listed as authors on the site are bots. Chuck Brady, Ashley Beam, Samantha Carr, and the like publish double-digit news articles every day. That's impossible for human editors, though I try my best.
Google News distributes AI-generated content
Even if the site is now ridiculed by the gaming community: The model seems to work in principle when it comes to generating reach. Google's algorithm picks up the articles and distributes them across Google News, search, and presumably other channels like Discover, a major source of traffic for publishers. It doesn't build a brand, though.
SimilarWeb's analytics platform shows traffic over the million mark for "zleague.gg", which has more than doubled since May. Even though SimilarWeb is imprecise, it is safe to assume that some relevant reach is being generated by purely automated content and that this type of publishing was only exposed by a deliberate prank by Reddit.
Google has already stated that it does not care whether content is generated by humans or machines, and even displays its own AI-generated content based on human-generated content in the Search Generative Experience. Google also profits from AI spam when websites that generate traffic via AI run Google's display ads.
For publishers, the example outlined above could be more of an encouragement to look more closely at AI publishing, especially since the quality of the machine-generated texts from "The Portal" could already be improved with the technology available today, and AI writing tools are likely to get even better.
Complementary human review could further improve quality while likely saving significant time and thus costs, especially for news that is relevant in the sense of being audience-engaging but journalistically lowbrow. The Springer media group, among others, is betting on this change.