The Danger Of AI Content Farms

The Danger Of AI Content Farms

The utilization of artificial intelligence (AI) for generating content and news reports is no longer a novel concept. As early as 2014, the Associated Press began publishing AI-generated financial reports, and since then, various news outlets like the Washington Post and Reuters have developed their own AI writing technologies.

Initially, AI was primarily employed for producing templated copy, such as sports reports. By extracting data such as team and player names, timings, dates, and scores from feeds, AI could enhance it through natural language generation, incorporating vivid details to transform it into a readable article.

In the past, this technology was exclusive to media corporations with the financial means to acquire and operate it. However, nowadays, anyone can leverage AI to generate an article within seconds. With a basic understanding of the technical aspects involved, individuals can establish a "content farm" aimed at continuously producing and publishing online content around the clock.

Recently, an investigation conducted by NewsGuard uncovered nearly 50 websites that solely rely on generative AI for content creation. These articles have been described as "low quality" and "clickbait." Some of these websites appear to exist solely for the purpose of generating revenue by displaying advertisements and affiliate links to readers. Others might have more sinister intentions, such as disseminating disinformation, conspiracy theories, or propaganda.

Therefore, it is crucial to examine the threats posed by this emerging wave of automated content farms and explore potential measures to safeguard ourselves against them.

Disinformation and Propaganda

Even in the absence of automated content generation, the internet is already plagued with a significant amount of misinformation. With the rapid pace at which AI can produce articles, it is highly likely that this problem will only escalate. The true danger arises when this information is exploited to deceitfully manipulate or promote false narratives. The global Covid-19 pandemic, for instance, witnessed an explosion of conspiracy theories, leading to confusion and distress among an already anxious general public. Additionally, there has been a significant rise in the prevalence of "deepfakes" - convincingly realistic AI-generated images or videos portraying individuals engaging in actions or making statements they never actually did. When combined, these tools can be utilized by those with ulterior motives to deceive us, pushing political or social agendas in ways that can potentially cause substantial harm.

Many of the websites identified by NewsGuard intentionally obscure their ownership and the identities of those exerting editorial control. This deliberate obfuscation makes it challenging to discern the presence of hidden agendas and establish accountability for defamation, the dissemination of dangerous information, or intentional falsehoods.

Copyright Infringement

Several identified content farms have been observed to solely operate by rewriting and republishing articles generated by mainstream media outlets, such as CNN. It is important to highlight that these content farms often employ training data sourced from copyrighted works produced by writers and journalists.

This situation poses challenges for various professionals who rely on writing and content creation as their livelihood, including artists and musicians. The infringement of copyrighted works by AI-generated copycats threatens the ability of these individuals to sustain their careers. In response, initiatives like The Human Artistry Campaign have emerged, aiming to safeguard the rights of human songwriters and musicians and protect their creative output from being plagiarized by AI. The anonymous nature of many content farms further complicates matters, making it exceedingly difficult to identify and take action against individuals who employ AI to infringe upon copyrights. Currently, this falls into a legal "grey area" where there are no explicit restrictions on AI-created works that draw inspiration from human works. However, society has yet to establish clear guidelines on how this will be addressed and tolerated in the long run.

The Spread of Clickbait

Many of the discovered AI-generated articles from content farms primarily serve the purpose of presenting advertisements to audiences. By instructing the AI to incorporate specific keywords, these articles aim to achieve high rankings on search engines and attract a larger audience. The AI can be directed to generate captivating, shocking, or alarming headlines to entice users to click on them.

The concern here lies in the increasing difficulty of accessing genuine and valuable information. Distributing advertisements through the internet is not inherently illegal – it provides funding for a significant portion of the media we consume and the online services we use. However, the rapidity and consistency with which AI-generated content can be produced pose a risk of cluttering search results and diluting our ability to discover authentic content. Creating AI-generated content is already significantly cheaper than producing content through human effort, and these content farms can generate output on a massive scale with minimal costs. This leads to a homogenization of content, making it challenging for us to encounter unique perspectives and valuable, in-depth investigative journalism.

The Consequences of Biased Data

The presence of bias poses a constant threat when working with AI, and its impact becomes particularly worrisome when it infiltrates the training data used to power algorithms that generate content on a large scale. An AI system's performance is directly tied to the quality of the data it is trained on, and the well-known computing principle of "garbage in, garbage out" becomes even more significant when applied to intelligent machines producing content at scale. Consequently, any bias present in the training data will permeate the generated content, perpetuating misinformation or prejudice.

To illustrate, if the training data includes a poorly constructed survey that disproportionately represents the opinions of one societal segment while downplaying or ignoring the perspectives of others, the AI-generated content will reflect this same bias. This can be particularly detrimental if the marginalized views belong to vulnerable or minority groups. Given that operators of these content farms have shown little oversight of their output, it is possible for the dissemination of biased, prejudiced, or harmful content to go unnoticed.

Ultimately, biased AI output is detrimental to society as it perpetuates inequality and fosters division. Amplifying this bias by publishing it across thousands of articles produced continuously throughout the day and night is unlikely to lead to positive outcomes.

What Can Be Done?

Regulators and legislators now face the task of ensuring that these frameworks remain relevant in an era where content can be autonomously created and distributed on a massive scale.

Tech companies that develop AI tools hold a significant responsibility in mitigating harm. They must take proactive measures to minimize bias and incorporate systems that prioritize accuracy, fact-checking, and respect for copyright.

As individuals, we also have a role to play in protecting ourselves. Critical thinking is an essential skill in the age of AI. It entails the ability to evaluate the information we encounter and make judgments regarding its accuracy, truthfulness, and value, especially when we are uncertain whether it was generated by a human or a machine. Education plays a crucial role in cultivating this skill, instilling an awareness from a young age that not everything we read may have our best interests in mind.

Addressing the dangers posed by large-scale, autonomous, and often anonymous content distributors will require a collaborative effort involving smart regulators, responsible businesses, and an informed general public. This approach will enable us to continue benefiting from ethical and responsible AI while mitigating the harm caused by those seeking quick profits or aiming to mislead us.