Most Top News Sites Block AI Bots. Right-Wing Media Welcomes Them

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“A process called reinforcement learning from human feedback is used right now in every state-of-the-art model,” to fine-tune its responses, Baum says. Most AI companies aim to create systems that appear neutral. If the humans steering the AI see an uptick of right-wing content but judge it to be unsafe or wrong, they could undo any attempt to feed the machine a certain perspective.

OpenAI spokesperson Kayla Wood says that in pursuit of AI models that “deeply represent all cultures, industries, ideologies, and languages” the company uses broad collections of training data. “Any one sector—including news—and any single news site is a tiny slice of the overall training data, and does not have a measurable effect on the model’s intended learning and output,” she says.

Rights Fights

The disconnect in which news sites block AI crawlers could also reflect an ideological divide on copyright. The New York Times is currently suing OpenAI for copyright infringement, arguing that the AI upstart’s data collection is illegal. Other leaders in mainstream media also view this scraping as theft. Condé Nast CEO Roger Lynch recently said at a Senate hearing that many AI tools have been built with “stolen goods.” (WIRED is owned by Condé Nast.) Right-wing media bosses have been largely absent from the debate. Perhaps they quietly allow data scraping because they endorse the argument that data scraping to build AI tools is protected by the fair use doctrine?

For a couple of the nine right-wing outlets contacted by WIRED to ask why they permitted AI scrapers, their responses pointed to a different, less ideological reason. The Washington Examiner did not respond to questions about its intentions but began blocking OpenAI’s GPTBot within 48 hours of WIRED’s request, suggesting that it may not have previously known about or prioritized the option to block web crawlers.

Meanwhile, the Daily Caller admitted that its permissiveness toward AI crawlers had been a simple mistake. “We do not endorse bots stealing our property. This must have been an oversight, but it’s being fixed now,” says Daily Caller cofounder and publisher Neil Patel.

Right-wing media is influential, and notably savvy at leveraging social media platforms like Facebook to share articles. But outlets like the Washington Examiner and the Daily Caller are small and lean compared to establishment media behemoths like The New York Times, which have extensive technical teams.

Data journalist Ben Welsh keeps a running tally of news websites blocking AI crawlers from OpenAI, Google, and the nonprofit Common Crawl project whose data is widely used in AI. His results found that approximately 53 percent of the 1,156 media publishers surveyed block one of those three bots. His sample size is much larger than Originality AI’s and includes smaller and less popular news sites, suggesting outlets with larger staffs and higher traffic are more likely to block AI bots, perhaps because of better resourcing or technical knowledge.

At least one right-leaning news site is considering how it might leverage the way its mainstream competitors are trying to stonewall AI projects to counter perceived political biases. “Our legal terms prohibit scraping, and we are exploring new tools to protect our IP. That said, we are also exploring ways to help ensure AI doesn’t end up with all of the same biases as the establishment press,” Daily Wire spokesperson Jen Smith says. As of today, GPTBot and other AI bots were still free to scrape content from the Daily Wire.

Updated at 10:20 am ET, January 24, 2024, to include the specific number of top news sites from which Originality AI collected data.

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