Journalist Startled to Discover His Byline Has Been Replaced by Bot

“The piece I had published more than ten years before was attributed to someone else.”

Vampire Independent

New journalistic nightmare unlocked: a defunct digital publication was revived from the media graveyard, only to have its Frankensteiners re-attribute old articles to bots.

Journalist and Forever Wars writer Spencer Ackerman, a one-time employee of the since-sunsetted news site called the Washington Independent, this week recounted his shock to discover that his decade-old articles — which had unfortunately been deleted alongside the rest of the website — had mysteriously resurfaced. But while the words in the article were certainly Ackerman’s, as the journalist explained in his newsletter, the byline attached to them was of one “Tyreece Bauer” — an alleged “analyst and photographer in the field of technology” who does not appear to be real.

“On the zombie edition of the Washington Independent I discovered, the piece I had published more than ten years before was attributed to someone else,” reported Ackerman. “Someone unlikely to have ever existed, and whose byline graced an article it had absolutely never written.”

Bauer is one of many fake “writers” now bylining re-attributed Washington Independent news articles in the undead publication’s archive. Meanwhile, also under fake bylines, the new and not-so-improved Washington Independent is churning out new content: clickbait articles about topics like celebrities and crypto, bizarre affiliate mush, and hastily paraphrased copies of other outlets’ reporting. And all of this, of course, strongly appears to be AI-generated.

Indeed, in the eroding, fragmented, and AI-laden 2024 media landscape, not even deleted bylines are safe from money-hungry SEO spammers and AI-generated nonsense.

Postcard from Media Hell

What’s more, as Ackerman points out, the Washington Independent doesn’t appear to be the only vampiric site like this out there. In an X-formerly-Twitter thread, New York Times journalist Lydia DePillis reported that another website associated with the original Washington Independent’s parent organization had also been revived, noting that it “looks legit at first but quickly degenerates into gibberish.”

“It just strikes me as the saddest encapsulation of the trajectory of the media industry over the past 15 years,” DePillis continued in the thread, “and everything is trash.”

Ackerman and DePillis’ findings are alarming for more reasons than one. From an individual writer’s perspective, seeing your time and labor resurrected under a bot’s byline is obviously terrible. And while SEO leeches buying and spinning up defunct websites for any remaining search engine credibility is anything but a new practice, doing so under the title of a once-legitimate news site is extra dangerous. Throw in the fake authors and the AI of it all, and you have a grotesque misinformation cocktail to potentially exploit.

One ray of hope? It’s one of the many spammy practices that Google claims its new spam policies are going to crack down on. Still, consider this yet another grim postcard from the end of the internet as we know it.

More on AI and journalism: Wikipedia No Longer Considers CNET a “Generally Reliable” Source After AI Scandal




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