Irish Times apologises after publishing AI-generated opinion piece

The article was written using artificial intelligence
The article was written using artificial intelligence

The Irish Times has apologised for publishing an opinion piece which appeared to be partially generated by artificial intelligence, in a hoax the editor said underlined challenges facing the news industry.

Ruadhan Mac Cormaic said the newspaper was “genuinely sorry” for publishing the op-ed entitled “Irish women’s obsession with fake tan is problematic” on Thursday morning.

The name of the author was given as Adriana Acosta-Cortez, who was described as a 29-year-old healthcare administrator from Ecuador living in north Dublin.

The opinion piece also included a supposed photo of the author.

The article discussed the widespread use of fake tan in Ireland, suggesting it was a form of cultural appropriation.

On Friday afternoon, several people on social media questioned whether the photo and the name of the op-ed writer were those of a real person.

By around 5.30pm on Friday, the body of the opinion piece had been removed and replaced with the line: “The text of this article has been removed pending checks”.

In a letter from the editor on Sunday, Mr Mac Cormaic said the paper had fallen victim to a deliberate deception and does not “take this lightly”.

He said: “It was a breach of the trust between The Irish Times and its readers, and we are genuinely sorry.

“The incident has highlighted a gap in our pre-publication procedures. We need to make them more robust – and we will.”

Mr Mac Cormaic said the incident underlined one of the challenges raised by generative AI for news organisations.

The editor said: “We, like others, will learn and adapt.”

He said The Irish Times works hard to come up with a blend of thought-provoking columns in its opinion section that “inform, stimulate and lend a fresh perspective on a current issue”.

However, the editor said the paper “got it badly wrong” on Thursday.

He said: “We published online an opinion column under the headline ‘Irish women’s obsession with fake tan is problematic’, written by someone purporting to be a young immigrant woman in Ireland.

“It made an argument that has been aired in other countries but related it to the Irish context.

“Over the course of several days, the author engaged with the relevant editorial desk – taking suggestions for edits on board, offering personal anecdotes and supplying links to relevant research.

“All of this was taken in good faith, and the article was published online on Thursday morning.”

Mr Mac Cormaic said the newspaper became aware the column may not have been genuine less than 24 hours later.

He said: “That prompted us to remove it from the site and to initiate a review, which is ongoing.

“It now appears that the article and the accompanying byline photo may have been produced, at least in part, using generative AI technology.

“It was a hoax; the person we were corresponding with was not who they claimed to be. We had fallen victim to a deliberate and coordinated deception.”

Mr Mac Cormaic said The Irish Times will continue to “make space for new writers, not least those from under-represented communities” and to “offer the high-quality journalism you expect”.