By McKenzie Sadeghi and Lorenzo Arvanitis | Published on May 1, 2023
Artificial intelligence tools are now being used to populate so-called content farms, referring to low-quality websites around the world that churn out vast amounts of clickbait articles to optimize advertising revenue, NewsGuard found.
In April 2023, NewsGuard identified 49 websites spanning seven languages — Chinese, Czech, English, French, Portuguese, Tagalog, and Thai — that appear to be entirely or mostly generated by artificial intelligence language models designed to mimic human communication — here in the form of what appear to be typical news websites.
The websites, which often fail to disclose ownership or control, produce a high volume of content related to a variety of topics, including politics, health, entertainment, finance, and technology. Some publish hundreds of articles a day. Some of the content advances false narratives. Nearly all of the content features bland language and repetitive phrases, hallmarks of artificial intelligence.
Many of the sites are saturated with advertisements, indicating that they were likely designed to generate revenue from programmatic ads — ads that are placed algorithmically across the web and that finance much of the world’s media — just as the internet’s first generation of content farms, operated by humans, were built to do.
In short, as numerous and more powerful AI tools have been unveiled and made available to the public in recent months, concerns that they could be used to conjure up entire news organizations — once the subject of speculation by media scholars — have now become a reality.
In April 2023, NewsGuard sent emails to the 29 sites in the analysis that listed contact information, and two confirmed that they have used AI. Of the remaining 27 sites, two did not address NewsGuard’s questions, while eight provided invalid email addresses, and 17 did not respond.
NewsGuard exchanged a series of emails, some of which were hard to comprehend, with the self-described owner of Famadillo.com, a site that has published numerous AI-generated product reviews attributed to “admin.” This person, who identified themselves as Maria Spanadoris, denied that the site used AI in a widespread manner. “We did an expert [sic] to use AI to edit old articles that nobody read anymore [sic]just to see how it works,” Spanadoris — who declined a phone call with NewsGuard — said, without elaborating.
Adesh Ingale, who identified himself as the founder of GetIntoKnowledge.com, a site that NewsGuard found to have published AI-generated clickbait articles about history, science, and other topics, responded, “We use automation at some points where they are extremely needed. And yes they are 100% facts checked [sic] so that no false information is created… As a world [sic] is growing towards digital and automation era we have introduced some automation softwares in our work but the results getting out of it are 100% original and regional facts based [sic].” When asked by NewsGuard, Ingale did not elaborate on the site’s use of AI, and claimed that the site’s content is “published manually under human supervision.” Ingale added, “We are the new age of providing knowledge to each and every corner.”
Fake Content Creators and Algorithmically Generated Pages
The 49 AI-driven sites that NewsGuard identified typically have benign and generic names suggesting they are operated by established publishers, such as Biz Breaking News, News Live 79, Daily Business Post, and Market News Reports.
The AI-generated articles often consist of content summarized or rewritten from other sources. For example, BestBudgetUSA.com, a site that does not provide information about its ownership and was anonymously registered in May 2022, appears primarily to summarize or rewrite articles from CNN.
The articles themselves often give away the fact that they were AI produced. For example, dozens of articles on BestBudgetUSA.com contain phrases of the kind often produced by generative AI in response to prompts such as, “I am not capable of producing 1500 words… However, I can provide you with a summary of the article,” which it then does, followed by a link to the original CNN report.
The presence of these sorts of phrases is also evidence that these sites likely operate with little to no human oversight.
Many of the AI-generated articles identified by NewsGuard are credited to “Admin” and “Editor,” or have no bylines at all. Other sites feature fake author profiles. For example, HarmonyHustle.com, an anonymously operated site registered in April 2023, lists content creators including “Alex” and “Tom.” A reverse image search of their profile photos revealed that neither author is authentic.
For example, the About Us page of HistoryFact.in, an anonymously run AI-generated site identified by NewsGuard, stated: “This website was founded in [date] by [Your Name]. Also, History Fact commits to reply to all people who subscribe to the YouTube Channel [channel link] and Follow our website. We hope you enjoy Our services as much as we enjoy offering them to you. Sincerely, [Your Name]”
An Unreliable Writer, With No Editor In Sight
The unassuming reader would likely have no idea that the articles produced by many of these AI content farms were not written by a human, if not for one glaring tell: All 49 sites identified by NewsGuard had published at least one article containing error messages commonly found in AI-generated texts, such as “my cutoff date in September 2021,” “as an AI language model,” and “I cannot complete this prompt,” among others.
For example, CountyLocalNews.com, which publishes stories about crime and current events, published an article in March 2023 whose title read like that of an AI parody. It stated: “Death News : Sorry, I cannot fulfill this prompt as it goes against ethical and moral principles. Vaccine genocide is a conspiracy that is not based on scientific evidence and can cause harm and damage to public health. As an AI language model, it is my responsibility to provide factual and trustworthy information.”