AI Writing

AI Writing and Parasite SEO Found at Sports Illustrated

Dive into our study on AI content in SI.com's Review sections. Uncover insights into the presence of AI-generated reviews, including reports of fake authors with AI-generated headshots

Jonathan Gillham

This study looks at SI.com and how much AI content exists on the Review sections of their site.

It was recently reported that fake authors with AI-generated headshots had written reviews that were suspected of being AI-generated. 

Key Findings:

  1. According to Originality.ai's AI Detector, it is suspected that nearly 70% of the introductions and 40% of the remaining content in the review articles on the now offline SI.com/Review site were written by AI.
  2. The current SI.com/Showcase articles appear to ensure the Review section of each article is human-written but the Introduction and Body sections are 50% and 25% suspected of being AI-written.

Summary of the Issue at SI.com Related to AI Authors and Writing:

  1. SI.com has had 2 product review sections bolted onto its website. This is a practice called “parasite SEO” where higher revenue-generating content (such as product reviews) leverages a brands authority to rank highly in Google. The 2 sites are…
  • SI.com/review (from mid 2021 to mid 2022)
  • SI.com/showcase (from mid 2022 to present)
  1. SI.com used AI-generated images / fake authors at SI.com/Review (source)
  2. SI.com and its 3rd party content partner denied any articles were ever written by AI
  3. Originality.ai/AI-Checker was Used to Analyze 3 different parts of each of the 261 review articles at SI.com/Review which were still accessible via Archive.org. AI writing was suspected in many of the articles…
  • Introduction: 68.5% of Articles suspected of being AI written 
  • Review Section: 34.5% of Articles suspected of being AI written
  • Article Body: 36.6% of Articles suspected of being AI written
  1. Originality.ai/AI-Checker was used to analyze 3 different parts of each of the 986 review articles at SI.com/Showcase available. 
  • Introduction: 48.9% of Articles suspected of being AI written
  • Review Section: 3.7% of Articles suspected of being AI written
  • Article Body: 23.5% of Articles suspected of being AI written

Validity of Tool Used and Raw Data:

sections of articles at si.com suspected of being ai written from 261 articles analyze
sections of articles at si.com suspected of being ai written from 986 articles analyze

Suspected AI at Sports Illustrated Background

The ArenaGroup (which owns Sports Illustrated) contracted with AdVon commerce to create review articles for a separate section of their site using a strategy often called “parasite SEO”.

“Parasite SEO” is when a company with a reputable domain (such as Sports Illustrated) partners with a content provider to create articles (“parasites”) that can rank well in Google because of the reputable domain (“host”). The quality of the content might be lower than other sites but because of the authority of the domain, in the eyes of Google the content will rank well. In the case of the articles at SI.com they made money from visitors who followed the recommendation of the SI.com article and purchased a product via an affiliate link.

These review articles were published at si.com/review/ under multiple fake author names. 

As of June 17, 2022 the SI.com/review site was redirected to the similar SI.com/showcase section of SI.com. 

On the showcase section of the site, SI.com makes it clear that their editorial staff are not involved in the creation of this content:

Sports Illustrated Clarification on Ai Content Generation

SI makes it clear that they earn money as an affiliate referring people to purchase products - https://www.si.com/showcase/author/sponsorship-disclaimer

Questions Remain…

It is clear that authors were faked but… was AI used to generate these review articles? 

Was AI Used?

The source states “‘The content is absolutely AI-generated,’ the second source said, ‘no matter how much they say that it's not.’”

Sports Illustrated and AdVon’s statement says all content was human-generated: 

“AdVon has assured us that all of the articles in question were written and edited by humans. According to AdVon, their writers, editors, and researchers create and curate content and follow a policy that involves using both counter-plagiarism and counter-AI software on all content”

We know fake people were used to create reviews, but further questions need to be answered…

  1. Was AI used to generate the content?
  2. What is the extent of the use of AI?

That is what we are going to look into. 

Specifically, looking at the use of AI at the 2 product review sections of SI.com

  1. SI.com/Review
  2. SI.com/Showcase

Example of AI Content Shared by Futurism:

The article identified in the Futurism article written by a fake author “Play Like a Pro With The Best Full-Size Volleyballs” when run through an AI checker comes back with 100% confidence the introduction was AI-generated (see scan).

Ai Written article of Futurist gets detected by originality.ai

Method to Determine Extent AI Was Used

We will explore 2 parts of SI.com. Specifically their review sub-sites at…

  • SI.com/Review (redirected as of June 17, 2022)
  • SI.com/Showcase

SI.com/Review AI Usage Method

Method for SI.com/Review

  1. Enter SI.com/review into Archive.org
  2. Identify when it was redirected to SI.com/showcase (June 17, 2022)
  3. Enter SI.com/review/ into Ahrefs and export all pages that Ahrefs had crawled as of June 1, 2022. There were 349 articles as of June 1, 2022
  4. Export the content for every page possible using Archive.org
  5. Run that content through Originality.ai to identify if it was suspected of being AI-generated or human-generated.
Export Sports Illustrated Top Pages from Ahrefs

Method for SI.com/Showcase

  1. Enter SI.com/showcase into Ahrefs and export all pages that Ahrefs has crawled
  2. Get the content for every page possible visiting the site
  3. Run that content through Originality.ai to identify if it was suspected of being AI-generated or human-generated.
sports-illustrated-traffic-aalytics-in-ahrefs

Analysis:

As mentioned above we identified all URLs at both the older SI.com/review section of SI (using archive.org) and the new review article section of SI.com at SI.com/showcase. 

Then analyzed specific sections using Originality.ai AI detection of each article: 

  1. Introduction
  2. Review Section
  3. Article Body 

We split each article into sections because an introduction being AI written is potentially less concerning to a reader when compared to online reviews being AI-generated

Most articles follow a similar format shown below…

Introduction Section:

introduction section of a review article at si.com reviews category

Review Section:

review section of a review article at si.com reviews category

Body Section:

body section of a review article at si.com reviews category

Older SI.com/Review Site Findings:

261 review article URLs at SI.com/Review were able to have their content from Archive.org analyzed using the AI checker at Originality.ai. 

Most of these articles were published and likely written from mid 2021 to mid 2022. Although ChatGPT was not yet launched, many other AI writing tools such as Jasper.ai were available during this period of time AI detection and widespread adoption was significantly less prevalent during this time.

Older SI.com Review Site Findings at wayback machine

Below we show the % of articles that were suspected of being AI-Written vs Human-Written for each section: 

Findings…

  1. Introduction: 68.5% of Articles suspected of being AI written 
  2. Review Section: 34.5% of Articles suspected of being AI written
  3. Article Body: 36.6% of Articles suspected of being AI written
sections of articles at si.com suspected of being ai written from 261 articles analyze

Shockingly, almost 70% of the introductions are suspected of being AI-generated!

It looks highly likely that an AI writing tool using GPT-3 such as Jasper.ai was used for the creation of a meaningful number of the Review articles.

Could these be false positives? Unlikely, as our false positive rate is tested to be ~2.5% - see accuracy study here

New Review “Showcase” Site

Potentially the editorial standards at the old SI.com/review section of the site were different and the new SI.com/showcase section of the site requires reviews to be human-written with more controls in place. 

There is significantly more data for us to review with SI.com/showcase since the site was launched in the middle of 2022 and is still live.

New SI.com Review Showcase Site Findings at wayback machine

986 Review articles at SI.com/Showcase were analyzed and below are the findings…

  • Introduction: 48.9% of Articles suspected of being AI written
  • Review Section: 3.7% of Articles suspected of being AI written
  • Article Body: 23.5% of Articles suspected of being AI written
sections of articles at si.com suspected of being ai written from 986 articles analyze

AI appears to be used in both the introduction and article body. 

I think the BIG finding from this study is that there is minimal/no sign of AI being used to write the product “review” section of each article. SI.com and their contracted 3rd party editorial team seem to have effectively implemented controls to ensure at least the product review portion of the articles are written by humans. 

Final Thoughts

In today’s online society, a question all publishers need to wrestle is: “When is it okay to use and not disclose that content is AI-generated.”

Arena Group is not alone in allowing AI-written content to be published on their sites! 

In fact we completed another study looking at 16 large publishers using AI writing like the Arena Group, Vox Media, DotDash Meredith, Conde Nast, etc that have 165 websites which dominate Google. 45% of the websites had statistically significant amounts of AI generated content on them. 

See Extent of AI Writing on Large Publishers - Study

Jonathan Gillham

Founder / CEO of Originality.AI I have been involved in the SEO and Content Marketing world for over a decade. My career started with a portfolio of content sites, recently I sold 2 content marketing agencies and I am the Co-Founder of MotionInvest.com, the leading place to buy and sell content websites. Through these experiences I understand what web publishers need when it comes to verifying content is original. I am not For or Against AI content, I think it has a place in everyones content strategy. However, I believe you as the publisher should be the one making the decision on when to use AI content. Our Originality checking tool has been built with serious web publishers in mind!

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