The Guardian has accused Microsoft of tarnishing its reputation by placing a controversial poll about the death of an Australian woman next to a Guardian article covering the same story. The AI-generated poll asked readers whether they believed the woman’s death was caused by suicide, accident, or murder, and because of its placement, many people believed the Guardian had initiated the poll.
Anna Bateson, Chief Executive of the Guardian Media Group, wrote to Microsoft’s President, Brad Smith, saying the survey was insensitive and likely to cause distress to the family of the dead woman, as well as reputational damage to the Guardian.
Readers reacted with disgust to the poll, which has since been removed, with some calling for Guardian journalists to be fired. One reader wrote, “This has to be the most pathetic, disgusting poll I’ve ever seen” and believed the Guardian had generated it.
Bateson asked Mr. Smith for reassurances that Microsoft would not place AI-generated content next to Guardian journalism without obtaining the newspaper’s permission. She also requested that Microsoft make it clear to readers that the publication did not generate AI-generated content that appears adjacent to Guardian articles.
“The insertion of this poll into a Guardian news story is a clear example of the dangers of using AI without proper safeguards,” Bateson said.
The controversial survey referred to the death of Sydney teacher Lillie James, who was found dead in the gym bathroom of St Andrew’s Cathedral School on October 25. Paul Thijssen, who was James’s ex-boyfriend, later phoned police to confess to the murder before jumping from a cliff and killing himself.
Thijssen, a 24-year-old from the Netherlands, is believed to have used the dead woman’s hand to access her cell phone to send a message to her father asking him to pick her up from school. Criminologist Xanthe Mallett speculated that Thijssen may have sent the text to “change the time at which the police thought she had died.”