Home Australian News Worthview Group websites accused of using AI to rip off articles

Worthview Group websites accused of using AI to rip off articles

Worthview Group websites accused of using AI to rip off articles

An Australian news company has been accused of using artificial intelligence to rewrite other media outlets’ stories to then publish them on the company’s competing news websites. 

Local news websites across Queensland have popped up with content that’s strikingly similar to what can be found on other local news websites, on government press releases and even from a US-based community news website that shares a name with an Australian local government shire. But AI content detection tools suggested the articles were written by AI, despite the company’s director previously claiming that the publications are “human-written”.

Worthview Group is a “technology and media” company that runs several online-only local news outlets across Queensland. In 2023 the company launched several titles such as the Gold Coast Minute and the Townsville Times.

These publications promise to be the “best media source for independent local news, tech, business and critical city insights through an easy-to-use, non-paywalled website and premium weekly newsletter” for the region.

Some of the group’s publications are built around weekly newsletters that collate and summarise events, social media posts and reports, and link out to other outlets reporting. Other publications, including the Toowoomba Minute and Redland City Minute, feature standalone articles.

Some of the articles appear to draw heavily from other sources, often without attribution. One example first noticed by ABC reporter Tobi Loftus was a Toowoomba Minute article about a Toowoomba murder trial witness being jailed for contempt. Loftus noted that there were only three reporters in court for the trial and that the Toowoomba Minute’s author, “Vic”, was not one of them.

“This story seems to be a rewrite of the ABC digital story by AI,” he posted on X, formerly known as Twitter. 

A comparison of the two articles shows strong similarities. The ABC’s article was published on January 16, and the Toowoomba Minute’s was published the next day. They are about the same events, use similar language and use almost the same quotes. 

The ABC’s Laura Cocks and David Chen wrote

The court heard Mr Vae Vae was a passenger in Mr Sia’s car at the time and fled the scene after the crash, making his evidence crucial to the case.

When the 33-year-old was asked to take an oath or affirmation before his testimony, he told the court, ‘I have nothing to say.’

Whereas Toowoomba Minute’s Vic wrote: 

Nathan Gus Vae Vae, who was a passenger in Mr Sia’s car at the time of the incident, became a crucial witness to the case. However, during the committal hearing, when asked to take an oath or affirmation before testifying, Vae Vae simply stated, ‘I have nothing to say.’

The Toowoomba Minute’s text slightly differs from the ABC’s, sometimes in ways that slightly altered the meaning. For example, the Toowoomba Minute’s reported a quote from Magistrate Clare Kelly saying “Mr. Vae Vae’s refusal to give evidence constitutes a grave undermining of the administration of justice in Queensland”. The ABC’s reporting on the same quote includes an ellipsis, signalling that it was a contraction of a longer statement.

The Toowoomba Minute’s text also included unwieldy language such as “The case continues to unfold as the legal proceedings progress”. Analysis of the Toowoomba Minute’s article by two AI content detectors from Copyleaks and GPTZero both suggested the article contained AI-generated text. However, these tools are far from perfect.

Crikey also identified several other articles on Worthview Groups’ publications that appeared to be rewrites of content from other sources, including news outlets such as the ABC. 

In one example, Vic wrote in April about how Redland City Attorney Dan McHugh had announced his retirement. The original article appeared to be “City Attorney Dan McHugh announces his retirement” from the online news outlet Redlands Community News, a publication that covers the Californian city of Redlands, about the retirement of a US-based civil servant.

Other articles seem to be lifted from non-news sources. Townsville Times writer “Aubrey” wrote an article titled “Capturing the Story: Army Opens Doors for Photographers”, which draws heavily from a Defence Department news update “Army is recruiting photographers”, published the week before, even going so far as to use the same image. Or a Toowoomba Minute article by Aubrey that appears to be a rewrite of a blog post by the Toowoomba and Surat Basin Enterprise organisation. 

In an interview with Crikey, Worthview Group director Troy Vandermeer spoke about his desire to create un-paywalled news outlets so that people could get local news. He said that he has some staff who do research for him. 

“It’s about keeping it straight down the line and not giving [the readers] a bad experience. It’s about trying to paraphrase it and get to the crux of the article. Not everyone has time to read all the stuff,” he said. 

When asked about the Toowoomba Minute article seeming like it was written by AI, Vandermeer said it was a “total outlier” and that it’s “not particularly something that we do”. When Crikey sent through five examples of articles that appeared to be rewrites of other content after the interview, Vandermeer didn’t respond. However, in an earlier blog post he said the company’s publications are “human-written”.

News outlets rewriting other outlets’ stories is nothing new. However, generative-AI tools now present a new threat as they allow people to do so instantaneously and with zero human involvement. Last year, news-rating website NewsGuard identified 50 news websites that were “almost entirely written by artificial intelligence software” and packed with false information. And as shown by Nine’s blaming of “automation” for depicting Victorian MP Georgie Purcell in more revealing clothing, AI is already introducing warped versions of reality that are being published by Australian media companies.

RMIT journalism lecturer Tito Ambyo said that AI-generated articles threaten more than just the business model of local journalism.

“What I’m worried about is if you’re using them uncritically, you could do something that’s unethical. For journalists, ethics is number one.”

He said that misuse of AI could undermine the already shrinking trust in journalists. 

“At the moment, people who are going to journalists are coming to us to find the most trustworthy information. If we use the same tools as they are, they can’t come to us for the best stuff,” he said.


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