AI and the rise of fake writer profiles
I've become somewhat obsessed with the proliferation of AI writing programs lately (keep your enemies close, as they say).
At first, I was focused on the software - there are myriad companies with AI-powered platforms promising fast copy on any subject you could dream of for mere pennies. I tested it. I realized that in its current form, the technology isn’t very good. But I do fear that in time, these AI algorithms will become more efficient through machine learning and their output will become more polished and professional.
I know it most certainly has the potential to put me and similar writers-for-hire out of business.
But the other day, I stumbled on a new threat I hadn't considered. With AI-powered copy, I had assumed the people buying the content, like, say, a small business owner, would put these ghost-written pieces under their own name. Or perhaps spread them out as posts penned by different members of their team.
It didn't actually occur to me that one would create a fake writer profile and use that to build up a reputation online.
But hey, why the hell not?
I first noticed this when a client sent me an article on creating converting landing pages. All the advice was sound - but not terribly groundbreaking. I scrolled to the bottom of the article and looked at the author - Amanda Dudley.
Given that I’m always keeping tabs on my competitors, I wondered what else she had written. So I Googled her, and with one search, the world of fake writer profiles became shockingly apparent.
A few things stood out to me immediately. Allegedly, she graduated from Stanford in 2001 with a degree in philosophy. Good for her! But, 2001? Assuming she did an undergrad and a master’s degree, she was probably in her mid to late 20s by the time she starts her doctorate. If she graduated in 2001, that makes her close to 50 years old today. (Also, don’t quote me because I suck at math).
Does this photo look like someone who is approaching 50?
No, in fact, it looks like an AI-generated image. There are no other images of Amanda Dudley online. Just this headshot used over and over again.
Back to her career history, she graduated in 2001 and then has no work history until she starts working as a Content Writer at EssayUSA in 2018. A 17-year gap in a resume seems a tad long, no?
Then there's the fact that an Ivy League graduate with a doctorate would work for EssayUSA, a company offering shady writing services for $10/page.
Google her name and her writing profile will appear on a million websites. Sometimes she graduated with a history degree, sometimes she's also a teacher helping children with special needs. But you will not find one iota of personal information about her anywhere. Nor a Facebook or Twitter profile to be seen.
And then comes her writing - it reads like pure AI-generated drivel. It's that same flat, repetitive, eerie content devoid of any voice whatsoever and lacking the confidence to make any real, concrete statements.
Take a paragraph from this article she wrote last year on how the pandemic has affected digital marketing:
When the stock markets suffered their massive crash early in the pandemic, advertising was one of the first things thrown overboard. Such a considerable reduction sent shivers down the spines of traditional sources. These cuts could be the death-knell for many working in this way.
Was advertising thrown overboard? Or was it advertising spend? What does ‘traditional sources’ mean in this context? ‘For many working in this way.’ What way is that?
This is standard for practice for AI-written content that makes bizarre, generic statements when it doesn’t have specific information to fill the gaps.
What is the benefit of creating these fake profiles? For EssayUSA, it legitimizes the use of AI technology for their business. They now have a (fake) face to put to a name that they can attach to these articles. As a business owner, you can hire Amanda to write for you and use her byline on your blog as an authoritative and Ivy League-credentialed writer - for pennies on the dollar!
I went down this rabbit hole because this type of fraud poses real risks to writers. The rise of AI is one thing, but as professional writers, we always had our profiles and our humanness to elevate us above the robots. Now that entire fake identities can be created as a way to misdirect clients, we need to be more vigilant.
I called Stanford to verify her degree, but they told me that I must go through the third-party online degree verification website that requires me to have her permission to run a search. So, no dice. And I’m sure none of the hundreds of websites that have published her writing have vetted her background or experience. In fact, fake AI profiles are so ubiquitous now, it’s estimated there are in excess of 2.6M synthetic human profiles currently available online. So writers aren’t the only ones that will need to watch their back.
I’m a believer in the power of technology - and I know it can do incredible things for mankind. But it’s hard not to feel fearful when you see how it can be used to deceive and mislead people.
I’m sure I'll continue to remain equal parts fascinated and terrified by AI technology, right up until it replaces me.