Chatbots spew fake info via clickbait websites
Generative AI has a dark side, already, as scammers use it for “proliferating” misinformation websites, powered by programmatic advertising.
As concerned as educators are about students using ChatGPT to do their homework, it seems a more worrying use of artificial intelligence (AI) has already emerged.
Clickbait websites – which make money from programmatic advertising – now using AI chatbots are “proliferating” warn internet researchers.
Many experts warned of this probability during the excitement when OpenAI released its GPT-3 software on 30 November 2022. Forget the more noble uses of a large-language model (LLM) and its extraordinary ability to replicate human writing, the scammers have spotted an upgrade to their nefarious needs.
It kinda feels like non-practising energy minister Gwede Mantashe’s attempts to get Karpowership into the energy mix. Given the option of elevating humanity, or truly ending SA’s energy crisis, some people opt for greedy exploitation.
Don’t take the clickbait
So-called content farms have been around for years – and were amplified by Google’s introduction of programmatic advertising. Many of the pro-Trump websites that sprung up before the 2016 US presidential election were run not by his political supporters, but savvy scam artists whose “fake news” stories were clickbait to show advertising.
A surprising portion of these came from a small Macedonian town called Veles. Canny Balkan teenagers in the town with a population of 44,000 registered around 150 US political websites. This “digital gold rush,” as BuzzFeedNews called it, in the former Yugoslav republic produced headlines like “Hillary’s Illegal Email Just Killed Its First American Spy” and “This is How Liberals Destroyed America”. “This Is Why We Need Trump in the White House” lured Trump’s fans in their millions, making the websites a small fortune.
“Liberty Writers News, a two-person site operating out of a house in the San Francisco Bay Area, generates an income of between $10,000 and $40,000 (R187,000 – R748,000) a month from banks of ads that run along the side and bottom of every story,” The Guardian reported in 2016.
It still seems so improbable that European teenagers could have such a large impact on global politics, but such is the world created by social media and financed by heinous programmatic advertising. These “clickbait political sites” were “getting a big boost from Facebook,” The Guardian pointed out.
Now these clickbait “AI-generated news websites [are] proliferating online,” warns NewsGuard, a US media-monitoring organisation that provides credibility ratings and “Nutrition Labels” about news and information websites.
It found 49 such sites in its first “Rise of the Newsbots” report, and another 125 sites “operating with little to no human oversight” in another report two weeks later. This rapid growth indicates that the “transformative technology is increasingly being used” to produce low-quality news and information sites, it warns.
“News consumers trust news sources less and less in part because of how hard it has become to tell a generally reliable source from a generally unreliable source,” says NewsGuard CEO Steven Brill. “This new wave of AI-created sites will only make it harder for consumers to know who is feeding them the news, further reducing trust.”
That’s bad news for both the media and readers – especially if Carl Niehaus discovers ChatGPT.
- This column first appeared in Financial Mail.
Toby Shapshak is editor-in-chief and publisher of Stuff, a Forbes senior contributor and a columnist for the Financial Mail and Daily Maverick. He has been writing about technology and the internet for 28 years and his TED Global talk on innovation in Africa has over 1,5-million views. He has written about Africa’s tech and start-up ecosystem for Forbes, CNN and The Guardian in London. He was named in GQ’s top 30 men in media and the Mail & Guardian newspaper’s influential young South Africans. He has been featured in the New York Times. GQ said he “has become the most high-profile technology journalist in the country” while the M&G wrote: “Toby Shapshak is all things tech… he reigns supreme as the major talking head for everything and anything tech.”