A daily Beast website survey found that a network of fictional journalists, analysts and political advisers was used to publish opinion articles in a range of media outlets in favor of some Gulf states. At least 19 fake people were used to write columns published in dozens of mainly conservative publications, and AI-generated author avatars were used to trick targets into believing that the authors were real.
This isn’t the first time artificial intelligence has been used in this way, and last year an Associated Press report found a fake profile on LinkedIn, which may be part of a spy network that tries to connect with professional targets and uses AI-generated avatars. AI-generated profile pictures created by websites such as ThisPersonDonNotExist.com have some unique advantages in building fake online characters. The most important feature is that each picture is uniquely generated, which means that they cannot be traced back to the source by reverse image search. However, the current generation of artificial intelligence avatars is not perfect. They have some common almost common, including strange teeth, asymmetrical features, blurred hair, strangely melted earlobes, and unclear background images.
Some of these features can be seen in the avatars used by some of the fake writers found in the Daily Beast. But there are some people who just use stolen avatars. These roles have some common attributes, which indicate that they are part of a single, coordinated activity. The Daily Beast, which is typically a contributor to Arab Eye and Persia Now, created a Twitter account in March or April 2020, claiming to be a political consultant and freelance journalist, mostly working in European capitals; falsely claiming his academic or professional qualifications on fake LinkedIn accounts; and using fake or stolen avatars to defeat reverse image searches.
While it’s not clear who created the network, the columns published by fake writers do have some editorial value. They advocate more sanctions against Iran, praise certain Gulf states, such as the United Arab Emirates, and criticize Qatar, which is now under diplomatic and economic blockade sought by Qatar and other countries in the Middle East over its alleged support for terrorism. The network was used to write op-eds in American media such as the Washington Observer and The American Thinker, as well as In Middle Eastern newspapers such as the Jerusalem Post and the Alarabiya, and even in the South China Morning Post, an English-language publication in Hong Kong. Twitter has suspended 15 accounts belonging to fake writers as a result of the Daily Beast investigation.