Incident 127: Microsoft’s Algorithm Allegedly Selected Photo of the Wrong Mixed-Race Person Featured in a News Story

Description: A news story published on MSN.com featured a photo of the wrong mixed-race person that was allegedly selected by an algorithm, following Microsoft’s layoff and replacement of journalists and editorial workers at its organizations with AI systems.
Alleged: Microsoft developed an AI system deployed by Microsoft and MSN.com, which harmed Jade Thirlwall and Leigh-Anne Pinnock.

Suggested citation format

Perkins, Kate. (2020-06-06) Incident Number 127. in McGregor, S. (ed.) Artificial Intelligence Incident Database. Responsible AI Collaborative.

Incident Stats

Incident ID
127
Report Count
12
Incident Date
2020-06-06
Editors
Sean McGregor, Khoa Lam

Tools

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Incident Reports

Microsoft is laying off dozens of journalists and editorial workers at its Microsoft News and MSN organizations. The layoffs are part of a bigger push by Microsoft to rely on artificial intelligence to pick news and content that’s presented on MSN.com, inside Microsoft’s Edge browser, and in the company’s various Microsoft News apps. Many of the affected workers are part of Microsoft’s SANE (search, ads, News, Edge) division, and are contracted as human editors to help pick stories.

“Like all companies, we evaluate our business on a regular basis,” says a Microsoft spokesperson in a statement. “This can result in increased investment in some places and, from time to time, re-deployment in others. These decisions are not the result of the current pandemic.”

While Microsoft says the layoffs aren’t directly related to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, media businesses across the world have been hit hard by advertising revenues plummeting across TV, newspapers, online, and more.

Business Insider first reported the layoffs on Friday, and says that around 50 jobs are affected in the US. The Microsoft News job losses are also affecting international teams, and The Guardian reports that around 27 are being let go in the UK after Microsoft decided to stop employing humans to curate articles on its homepages.

Microsoft has been in the news business for more than 25 years, after launching MSN all the way back in 1995. At the launch of Microsoft News nearly two years ago, Microsoft revealed it had “more than 800 editors working from 50 locations around the world.”

Microsoft has gradually been moving towards AI for its Microsoft News work in recent months, and has been encouraging publishers and journalists to make use of AI, too. Microsoft has been using AI to scan for content and then process and filter it and even suggest photos for human editors to pair it with. Microsoft had been using human editors to curate top stories from a variety of sources to display on Microsoft News, MSN, and Microsoft Edge.

Microsoft lays off journalists to replace them with AI

Microsoft fired many journalists after it decided to replace them with artificial intelligence robots.

Staff who maintain the Microsoft's MSN website news homepages on and its Edge browser have been told that they will be no longer needed as robots can do their jobs.

Around 27 people employed by PA Media – earlier the Press Association – were told on Thursday that in a month they would lose their jobs after Microsoft decided to stop hiring humans to select, edit and curate news articles on its homepages.

One team member said: "I spend all my time reading about how automation and AI are going to take all our jobs, and here I am – AI has taken my job."

He further added that the decision to replace humans with software was risky, as the existing staff were keen to stick to "very strict editorial guidelines" which ensured users not to be presented with violent or unsuitable content when opening their browser, of particular importance for younger users.

The Microsoft team working on-site did not report original stories, but still implemented editorial control, selecting stories produced by other news organizations, including The Guardian, and editing content and headlines when appropriate for the format. The articles were then presented on the Microsoft website, and the company shared the advertising revenue with the original publishers.

Manual presentation of the news also ensured that the headlines were clear and format-appropriate while encouraging the dissemination of political views and avoiding unreliable stories, while also highlighting interesting articles from small-media house.

Some of the journalists' are now facing layoff had long experience in the industry, while for others they offered a foot in the door and a job in a sector that has seen wave after wave of cuts. Now they face a challenge of getting a job somewhere else when the whole industry is planning to cut costs. Other teams around across the globe are expected to be affected by Microsoft's decision to automate the curation of its news sites.

Like other news organizations, PA Media faces difficult financial challenges and had to suspend some staff members and ask others to accept pay cuts. The tech company had expanded out of its traditional newsagency business, recently buying the Alamy stock image business just before the pandemic devastated the media industry.

A company spokesperson said: "We are in the process of winding down the Microsoft team working at PA, and we are doing everything we can to support the individuals concerned. We are proud of the work we have done with Microsoft and know we delivered a high-quality service."

"Like all companies, we evaluate our business on a regular basis. This can result in increased investment in some places and, from time to time, re-deployment in others. These decisions are not the result of the current pandemic," said a Microsoft spokesperson.

Many tech companies are experimenting with Artificial Intelligence uses in journalism. As Google funding investment in projects to understand its uses, although automate the writing of articles have not been adopted extensively.

Microsoft fires journalists to replace them with AI robots

Dozens of journalists have been sacked after Microsoft decided to replace them with artificial intelligence software.

Staff who maintain the news homepages on Microsoft’s MSN website and its Edge browser – used by millions of Britons every day – have been told that they will be no longer be required because robots can now do their jobs.

Around 27 individuals employed by PA Media – formerly the Press Association – were told on Thursday that they would lose their jobs in a month’s time after Microsoft decided to stop employing humans to select, edit and curate news articles on its homepages.

Employees were told Microsoft’s decision to end the contract with PA Media was taken at short notice as part of a global shift away from humans in favour of automated updates for news.

One staff member who worked on the team said: “I spend all my time reading about how automation and AI is going to take all our jobs, and here I am – AI has taken my job.”

The individual added that the decision to replace humans with software was risky, as the existing staff were careful to stick to “very strict editorial guidelines” which ensured that users were not presented with violent or inappropriate content when opening their browser, of particular importance for younger users.

The team working on the Microsoft site did not report original stories but still exercised editorial control, selecting stories produced by other news organisations – including the Guardian – and editing content and headlines where appropriate to fit the format. The articles were then hosted on Microsoft’s website, with the tech company sharing advertising revenue with the original publishers.

Manual curation of news stories also ensured that headlines were clear and appropriate for the format, while encouraging a spread of political opinions and avoiding untrustworthy stories, while highlighting interesting articles from smaller outlets.

Some of the journalists now facing redundancy had longstanding experience in the industry, while for others it offered a foot in the door and a job in an industry which has seen wave after wave of cuts. They now face a tough challenge to get jobs elsewhere when the whole industry is looking to cut costs. Other teams around the world are expected to be affected by Microsoft’s decision to automate the curation of its news sites.

In common with other news organisations, PA Media is facing tough financial challenges and has had to furlough some staff and ask others to take pay cuts. The company has expanded outside its traditional news agency business, recently buying stock image business Alamy shortly before the pandemic devastated the media industry.

A spokesperson for the company said: “We are in the process of winding down the Microsoft team working at PA, and we are doing everything we can to support the individuals concerned. We are proud of the work we have done with Microsoft and know we delivered a high-quality service.”

A Microsoft spokesperson said: “Like all companies, we evaluate our business on a regular basis. This can result in increased investment in some places and, from time to time, re-deployment in others. These decisions are not the result of the current pandemic.”

Many tech companies are experimenting with uses for Artificial Intelligence in journalism, with the likes of Google funding investment in projects to understand its uses, although efforts to automate the writing of articles have not been adopted widely.

Microsoft sacks journalists to replace them with robots

New Algorithm

Over the weekend, Microsoft announced that it’s laying off dozens of journalists, editors, and other workers at MSN and its other news divisions.

While media layoffs are tragically widespread at the moment, Microsoft said that the layoffs had nothing to do with the COVID-19 pandemic, The Verge reports. Instead, it’s part of the company’s push over the last few months to automate journalism: it plans to replace the laid-off workers with news-scanning artificial intelligence.

Algorithmic Curation

Many of the roughly 77 editors and journalists hit by the layoffs helped curate the news stories that appear on the homepage for Microsoft News, MSN, and Microsoft’s Edge browser, according to The Verge. Now, AI algorithms will scan the internet for news articles to highlight, taking the work of deciding which news is important out of human hands.

In recent months, Microsoft has increasingly urged reporters and editors to rely on AI for tasks like finding and distilling online content and images to use in articles, The Verge reports.

Layoff Season

While plummeting ad revenue and other financial downturns caused by the coronavirus pandemic have hit newsrooms hard, Microsoft says that’s not what motivated its layoffs.

“Like all companies, we evaluate our business on a regular basis,” a company spokesperson said, according to The Verge. “This can result in increased investment in some places and, from time to time, re-deployment in others. These decisions are not the result of the current pandemic.”

MSN Fires Journalists, Replaces Them With AI

The team working on the Microsoft website did not publish original stories but instead exercised editorial control, choosing articles created by other news outlets and, where necessary, editing material and headlines to suit the format. The articles were then published on Microsoft’s website, with the original publishers sharing advertisement revenue with the software firm.

Microsoft is laying off hundreds of journalists and editorial staff at Microsoft News and MSN. The layoffs are part of Microsoft’s bigger drive to rely on artificial intelligence to select news and content from MSN.com, inside Microsoft’s Edge platform, and the numerous Microsoft News apps in the business. The employees working in the Microsoft’s SANE (search, advertising, News, Edge) division who are generally hired as editors to help select stories will deal with the fallout of the move by the company.

According to media reports, 50 employees in the United States and 21 in the United Kingdom will be immediately affected as they will now have to search for new opportunities.

“Like all companies, we evaluate our business on a regular basis. This can result in increased investment in some places and, from time to time, re-deployment in others. These decisions are not the result of the current pandemic,” a Microsoft spokesperson said in a statement.

Although Microsoft claims the layoffs are not directly linked to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, advertising sales plummeting through TV, magazines, internet, and more have hit media companies all over the world hard. Microsoft also used human editors to curate top stories from a variety of outlets on Microsoft News, MSN, and Microsoft Edge.

Manual curation of news stories also ensured that headlines were consistent and fitting for the medium while promoting circulation of political views and avoiding untrustworthy reports while highlighting interesting articles from smaller outlets.

Many of the journalists now facing redundancy had long-standing business experience, while it offered a foot in the door and a position in a business that saw wave after wave of cuts for many. Now they are facing a difficult task of finding jobs elsewhere as the industry as a whole is trying to cut costs. Microsoft’s decision to automate the curation of its news pages is likely to impact other teams around the world.

Robot uprising begins? Microsoft fires journalists, replaces them with AI
  1. Microsoft laying dozens of Journalists & COVID 19 is not the reason for this layoff

Tech giant Microsoft is laying off several journalists at its Microsoft News and MSN Organization (Microsoft owns MSN.com). However, this lay off has nothing to do with ongoing coronavirus crises, which is proving to be a major drag for the global economy. Microsoft has taken this decision in order to give a major push to artificial intelligence (AI) in picking news and content on its various platforms, which has now led to job cuts at MSN and other Microsoft subsidiaries that deal with news and content.

Microsoft Fires Journalists and replaces them with AI – Top Trending News

Now onwards you are going to see news stories generated by AI on homepages of the MSN website and Edge browser.

Microsoft has been fired dozens of journalists and editorial workers at its Microsoft News and MSN organizations — leveraging robot journalism to cut costs.

According to Microsoft, this move is a part of their business evaluation process. This can increase investment in some places and redeployment in others. They also clarified that the layoffs are not driven by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Robot uprising in Microsoft has affected around 50 news contractors in the US and around 27 in the UK. One staff member who worked on the team said — “I spend all my time reading about how automation and AI is going to take all our jobs, and here I am – AI has taken my job.”

Microsoft launched MSN in 1995 and has been in the news business for more than 23 years and at the launch of Microsoft News, the company revealed that it had more than 800 editors working from 50 locations around the world.

Microsoft fires MSN journalists - replaces them with AI robots

Microsoft’s decision to replace human journalists with AI to run its news and search site MSN.com has been criticized after the automated system confused two mixed-race members of British pop group Little Mix.

As first reported by The Guardian, the newly-instated robot editors of MSN.com selected a story about Little Mix singer Jade Thirlwall’s experience with racism to appear on the homepage, but used a picture of Thirlwall’s bandmate Leigh-Anne Pinnock to illustrate it.

Thirlwall drew attention to the mistake on her Instagram story, writing: “@MSN If you’re going to copy and paste articles from other accurate media outlets, you might want to make sure you’re using an image of the correct mixed race member of the group.”

She added: “This shit happens to @leighannepinnock and I ALL THE TIME that it’s become a running joke ... It offends me that you couldn’t differentiate the two women of colour out of four members of a group … DO BETTER!”

According to The Guardian, the mistake was made by Microsoft’s new automated systems. The tech giant laid off the editorial staff of MSN late last month. These journalists were not tasked with writing stories, but selecting articles from other outlets to spotlight on the MSN homepage. Around 50 journalists were reportedly let go in the US and 27 in the UK.

It’s not clear exactly what caused this error, but in an updated statement, Microsoft said it was not a result of algorithmic bias but an experimental feature in the automated system.

A spokesperson told The Verge: “Whilst removing bias and improving accuracy remain an area of focus for AI research, this mistake was not a result of these issues. In testing a new feature to select an alternate image, rather than defaulting to the first photo, a different image on the page of the original article was paired with the headline of the piece. This made it erroneously appear as though the headline was a caption for the picture.”

However, this is exactly the sort of mistake human editors are supposed to spot. Though, as Thirlwall’s comments make clear, this is far from the first time such errors have been made. Earlier this year, for example, the BBC was forced to apologize after using footage of basketball player LeBron James to illustrate news of the death of Kobe Bryant, both of whom played for the Lakers at different periods of time.

Notably, The Guardian reports that the remaining human staff at MSN have been warned that critical coverage of the site’s automated systems is being published by news outlets. The staff were told that the AI may select these stories as interesting and place them on the MSN homepage. If this happens the human staff have been told to remove the stories.

Update Jun 10th, 5:59AM ET: The story has been updated with a new statement from Microsoft.

Correction: The story previously described Kobe Bryant and LeBron James as “teammates.” Although they played for the same team it was not at the same time.

Microsoft’s AI journalists confuse mixed-race Little Mix singers

Microsoft's AI editor posted a story about Ms Thirlwall’s experience with racism on the search site MSN.com, but mistakenly used a photo of her bandmate, Ms Pinnock

They’re two of the biggest pop stars in the world, but Little Mix’s Jade Thirlwall and Leigh-Anne Pinnock have been involved in a bizarre mix-up this week, thanks to Microsoft’s robot editor.

The AI editor posted a story about Ms Thirlwall’s experience with racism on the search site MSN.com, but mistakenly used a photo of her bandmate, Ms Pinnock.

Ms Thirlwall flagged the error on her Instagram Story, writing: “@MSN If you’re going to copy and paste articles from other accurate media outlets, you might want to make sure you’re using an image of the correct mixed race member of the group.”

She added that this isn’t the first time that the two singers have been confused for one another.

She added: “This s*** happens to @leighannepinnock and I ALL THE TIME that it’s become a running joke ... It offends me that you couldn’t differentiate the two women of colour out of four members of a group … DO BETTER!”

According to The Guardian, who first reported the error, the mistake was made by Microsoft’s robot editor, which MSN has been using over the last month.

The reason for the mistake remains unclear.

A spokesperson for Microsoft said: “Whilst removing bias and improving accuracy remain an area of focus for AI research, this mistake was not a result of these issues.

"In testing a new feature to select an alternate image, rather than defaulting to the first photo, a different image on the page of the original article was paired with the headline of the piece. This made it erroneously appear as though the headline was a caption for the picture.

"As soon as we became aware of this issue, we immediately took action to resolve it, replaced the incorrect image and turned off this new feature.”

Last month, Microsoft replaced almost 80 journalists and editorial workers with artificial intelligence systems.

Microsoft said: “Like all companies, we evaluate our business on a regular basis. This can result in increased investment in some places and, from time to time, re-deployment in others. These decisions are not the result of the current pandemic.”

However, the Little Mix-up suggests that Microsoft’s AI may not be as foolproof as the tech giant hopes…

Little Mix's Jade Thirlwall slams Microsoft after its AI confuses her with bandmate

Microsoft’s decision to replace human journalists with robots has backfired, after the tech company’s artificial intelligence software illustrated a news story about racism with a photo of the wrong mixed-race member of the band Little Mix.

A week after the Guardian revealed plans to fire the human editors who run MSN.com and replace them with Microsoft’s artificial intelligence code, an early rollout of the software resulted in a story about the singer Jade Thirlwall’s personal reflections on racism being illustrated with a picture of her fellow band member Leigh-Anne Pinnock.

Thirlwall, who attended a recent Black Lives Matter protest in London, criticised MSN on Friday, saying she was sick of “ignorant” media making such mistakes. She posted on Instagram: “@MSN If you’re going to copy and paste articles from other accurate media outlets, you might want to make sure you’re using an image of the correct mixed race member of the group.”

“This shit happens to @leighannepinnock and I ALL THE TIME that it’s become a running joke,” she said. “It offends me that you couldn’t differentiate the two women of colour out of four members of a group … DO BETTER!”

What Thirlwall could not have known, according to sources at the company, is that the image was selected by Microsoft’s artificial intelligence software, which is already responsible for editing parts of the news site, which attracts hundreds of millions of readers worldwide.

An Instagram Stories post by Jade Thirlwall criticising the MSN news service. Photograph: Jade Thirlwall

Microsoft does not carry out original reporting but employs human editors to select, edit and repurpose articles from news outlets, including the Guardian. Articles are then hosted on Microsoft’s website and the tech company shares advertising revenue with the original publishers. At the end of last month, Microsoft decided to fire hundreds of journalists in the middle of a pandemic and fully replace them with the artificial intelligence software.

Asked why Microsoft was deploying software that cannot tell mixed-race individuals apart, whether apparent racist bias could seep into deployments of the company’s artificial intelligence software by leading corporations, and whether the company would reconsider plans to replace the human editors with robots, a spokesman for the tech company said: “As soon as we became aware of this issue, we immediately took action to resolve it and have replaced the incorrect image.”

In advance of the publication of this article, staff at MSN were told to expect a negative article in the Guardian about alleged racist bias in the artificial intelligence software that will soon take their jobs.

Because they are unable to stop the new robot editor selecting stories from external news sites such as the Guardian, the remaining human staff have been told to stay alert and delete a version of this article if the robot decides it is of interest and automatically publishes it on MSN.com. They have also been warned that even if they delete it, the robot editor may overrule them and attempt to publish it again.

Staff have already had to delete coverage criticising MSN for running the story about Little Mix with the wrong image after the AI software decided stories about the incident would interest MSN readers.

One staff member said Microsoft was deeply concerned about reputational damage to its AI product: “With all the anti-racism protests at the moment, now is not the time to be making mistakes.”

Microsoft's robot editor confuses mixed-race Little Mix singers

A week after laying off dozens of journalists and editorial workers and replacing them with artificial intelligence, Microsoft’s robot editor confused two members of the British singing group Little Mix, who are both mixed-race.

Singer Jade Thirlwall first called out the mistake on her Instagram story tagging MSN, where a story about her experience with racism was paired with a photo of singer Leigh-Anne Pinnock.

“@MSN If you’re going to copy and paste articles from other accurate media outlets, you might want to make sure you’re using an image of the correct mixed race member of the group," she wrote, adding, "This s--- happens to @leighannepinnock and I ALL THE TIME that it’s become a running joke...It offends me that you couldn’t differentiate the two women of colour out of four members of a group...DO BETTER!”

The article "Little Mix star Jade Thirlwall says she faced horrific racism at school" drew from an interview the 27-year-old gave on the BBC podcast "No Country for Young Women." Thirlwall, whose mother is Egyptian and Yemeni and father is English, spoke about being bullied for her heritage growing up.

Pinnock, who has Barbadian and Jamaican ancestry, later called out the mistake on her own social media.

A spokesman for Microsoft, which owns MSN, told the Guardian, “As soon as we became aware of this issue, we immediately took action to resolve it and have replaced the incorrect image.”

In a previous story about the move to replace human editors with Microsoft’s artificial intelligence software, The Guardian reported former staff members’ concerns over potential mistakes like this one. A Guardian reporter later said on Twitter that unnamed staff members at MSN were ordered to remove The Guardian article on the mix-up once it was published.

Microsoft, who has issued statements in support of the black and African American community at their company, has also come under fire for an email sent to an artist about commissioning a mural.

Microsoft chief marketing officer Chris Capossela responded to the Tweet, apologizing on behalf of the company.

“There is no excuse. We recognize it was wrong and I am sorry. I respect you may not want to discuss this further, but if you are open to it, I’d like to connect directly," he wrote.

Harris Diamond, the chief executive officer of advertising company McCann, which lists Microsoft as a client, also apologized in a response on Twitter.

Backlash after Microsoft's robot editor confuses mixed-race Little Mix singers

Amid the 'Black Lives Matter' protests happening in the United States, a not surprising error has been made by Microsoft's MSN involving two of the members of Little Mix. An article was written about its member Jade Thirlwall on the front page of the website. Embarrassingly, MSN gets confused with the images and puts her co-member's face, Leigh-Anne Pinnock. Here's the explanation behind this huge error.

'That's not Thirlwall!' MSN gets confused on who's who on Little Mix

On May 30, Microsoft's news website, MSN has decided to replace almost the entire human force within their company, with artificial intelligence (AI). This means that all the news articles will no longer be written by human journalists themselves, but with computer technology.

Microsoft has not yet said the reason behind this sudden and huge change. However, almost two weeks from its implementation, a mistaken picture was already put on its website due to this decision.

Little Mix' member Leigh-Anne Pinnock's picture was mistakenly placed in an MSN article, which was originally a story about her co-member, Jade Thirlwall.

This mistake was brought out by Jade, herself. According to the Guardian, Jade was angry when the picture was mistakenly put by the news site. She even posted several messages for MSN on Instagram.

"@MSN If you're going to copy and paste articles from other accurate media outlets, you might want to make sure you're using an image of the correct mixed-race member of the group," she said. "This s*** happens to @leighannepinnock and I ALL THE TIME that it's become a running joke ... It offends me that you couldn't differentiate the two women of color out of four members of a group ... DO BETTER!"

MSN's racist article now fixed

Thousands of the group's fans have called MSN 'racist' for switching the faces of the two mix-raced members of Little Mix. Luckily, it is now fixed with a proper image of Jade Thirlwall on the page.

"As soon as we became aware of this issue, we immediately took action to resolve it and have replaced the incorrect image," said MSN spokesperson.

Though MSN did not blame the AI for this robotic mistake, reports said that placing technology for this job may not be the best decision that the website did for their company.

Of course, if it is a human person, there are higher chances that the image fiasco would not be a problem anymore.

Little Mix' Leigh-Anne Pinnock Gets Mistaken as Jade Thirlwall on MSN; Here's Why it Happened

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