AI, Disinformation Might Save The News -- But Not How You Think

A few months ago, the parent company of Gizmodo en Español decided to replace the entire staff with AI.

Instead of original reporting on science, technology and Internet culture, tailored specifically for Spanish-speaking readers, visitors to the site were treated to auto-published, AI translations of English-language articles.

At first glance, this type of story looks like the beginning of the end, the long-dreaded AI-pocalypse destroying all the jobs. They don’t need journalists anymore! Or lawyers! Or musicians!

But the move quickly turned south. Articles were riddles with mistakes and formatting errors. Some of them switched from Spanish to English partway through. Management removed all bylines from the site -- even those of the journalists who had just been laid off.

Meanwhile, the platform-formerly-known-as-Twitter is rapidly fulfilling Hugh’s Law: “All online social networks eventually turn into a swampy mush of spam.” The decimation of its trust and safety team and the elimination of genuinely verified accounts in favor of ones you could buy for the price of a cup of expensive coffee have left the service devoid of guardrails.



Other social networks spotted Elon’s 80% workforce reduction, got serious FOMO, and laid off their own teams. Meta now offers users the ability to opt out of the fact-checking program. In June, YouTube announced it would stop removing content that falsely claims the 2020 election was stolen.

For a while, it didn’t seem to matter that much. Then Hamas attacked Israel.

Millions of people are turning to social media to stay informed. But information -- at least, accurate information -- is hard to come by these days. Wired summed it up: “The Israel-Hamas War Is Drowning X in Disinformation.” And, as Ryan Broderick pointed out, the “dogshit content swirling inside of X is... guiding what’s being posted everywhere else. Big subreddits and popular Instagram accounts are full of screenshots of the same stuff.”

Broderick’s outlook for where we go from here is grim:.“Instead of X dissolving into a digital backwater for divorced guys with NFT debt, it has, instead, continued to remain at the top of the digital funnel while also being 4chan-levels of rotten. It is still being used to process current events in ‘real time’ even though it does not have the tools, nor the leadership necessary to handle that responsibility. The inmates are running the asylum and there is nothing on the horizon to convince that that [sic] will get better.”

I’m more optimistic. Online platforms are incredibly popular -- until they’re not. MySpace was destroyed in the space of a year. Clubhouse went from 10 million monthly downloads in February 2021 to less than a million in April 2021.

The whole premise of social media is that it’s… well, social. It’s where the party’s at. Once the vibe starts to go, things can end quickly. And AI and disinformation are seriously harshing the vibe.

Global traffic at X is down 14% year-over-year. U.S traffic is down 19%. That might not be enough for Broderick, but it’s hard to recover from and likely to accelerate, especially as the volume of garbage content continues to explode.

And if there’s nowhere else to go for the news, we may well end up back where we started: at legacy media -- with human journalists and verified content.

Hey, a girl can dream.

2 comments about "AI, Disinformation Might Save The News -- But Not How You Think".
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  1. Frank Lampe from Lampe & Associates, October 20, 2023 at 2:26 p.m.

    Let's hope you're right. And that viewers (formerly known as "readers") and advertisers are willing to pay for "authentic journalism." Gee, maybe even print media can have a rebound. 

  2. Rob Pait from UnicornCG, October 20, 2023 at 3:27 p.m.

    Still reading a lot of credible journalists from credible sources reporting on all things sports on X. Also memes. 

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