On Tuesday, The Guardian accused Microsoft of damaging its journalistic reputation by publishing an AI-generated poll beside one of its articles on the Microsoft Start website. The poll, created by an AI model on Microsoft’s news platform, speculated on the cause of a woman’s death, reportedly triggering reader anger and leading to reputational concerns for the news organization.
“This has to be the most pathetic, disgusting poll I’ve ever seen,” wrote one commenter on the story. The comment section has since been disabled.
The poll appeared beside a republished Guardian story about Lilie James, a 21-year-old water polo coach who was found dead with head injuries in Sydney. The AI-generated poll presented readers with three choices to speculate on the cause of James’ death: murder, accident, or suicide. Following negative reactions, the poll was removed, but critical comments remained visible for a time before their removal.
Anna Bateson, the chief executive of the Guardian Media Group, voiced her concerns in a letter to Microsoft President Brad Smith. Bateson criticized Microsoft’s use of generative AI for creating a poll on a sensitive issue without the news publisher’s consent.
“This is clearly an inappropriate use of genAI [generative AI] by Microsoft on a potentially distressing public interest story, originally written and published by Guardian journalists,” she wrote in the letter.
She argued that the poll was not only potentially distressing for the deceased woman’s family but also harmful to the reputation of the journalists who wrote the original article, some of which had been angrily called out by name by commenters on the article. Bateson then emphasized the importance of a “strong copyright framework” for publishers to negotiate how their content is used by third-party platforms.
The Guardian has a licensing agreement with Microsoft that allows the tech company to publish the newspaper’s articles on Microsoft Start, which serves as a news aggregation website and app. Bateson has requested that Microsoft commit to not using experimental AI technology alongside Guardian journalism without approval and to make it clear when AI tools are employed for generating additional content.
Bateson also called on Microsoft to take responsibility for the poll by attaching a note to the original article. As of press time, Microsoft had not yet commented to The Guardian on the matter.
This isn’t the first time Microsoft’s automated AI-generated news content has caused controversy. In September, MSN published an AI-generated article that declared deceased former NBA player Brandon Hunter “useless at 42.” In August, MSN also published a list of can’t-miss tourist destinations in Ottawa that included a food bank.