If a good newspaper is a nation talking to itself, the Opinion section is where much of that talking happens. It is an open, pluralistic space that hosts everyone from public figures and commentators to specialist analysts and ordinary readers with something to say. The aim each day is to come up with a blend of thought-provoking columns that inform, stimulate and lend a fresh perspective on a current issue.
For us at The Irish Times, it is an important means of making good on our founding principles. Those principles describe a view of the world that is open-minded, tolerant, curious, respectful of divergent views and always attentive to the needs of minorities.
We work hard at this. As in any 24/7 news operation, some days we do better than others. But last Thursday we got it badly wrong. That day, we published online an opinion column under the headline ‘Irish women’s obsession with fake tan is problematic’, written by someone purporting to be a young immigrant woman in Ireland. It made an argument that has been aired in other countries but related it to the Irish context.
Over the course of several days, the author engaged with the relevant editorial desk - taking suggestions for edits on board, offering personal anecdotes and supplying links to relevant research. All of this was taken in good faith, and the article was published online on Thursday morning.
‘It feels like we failed somewhere, letting remote working get rolled back’: Employees on returning to the office
Arnie is back in Fubar, which sounds like somewhere Johnny Ronan might have dined with Irish models circa 2005
‘We sleep in different rooms, haven’t had sex in four years and we bicker. I’m tempted to start casual dating’
Less than 24 hours after publication on our digital platforms, The Irish Times became aware that the column may not have been genuine. That prompted us to remove it from the site and to initiate a review, which is ongoing. It now appears that the article and the accompanying byline photo may have been produced, at least in part, using generative AI technology. It was a hoax; the person we were corresponding with was not who they claimed to be. We had fallen victim to a deliberate and coordinated deception.
We don’t take this lightly. It was a breach of the trust between The Irish Times and its readers, and we are genuinely sorry. The incident has highlighted a gap in our pre-publication procedures. We need to make them more robust - and we will. It has also underlined one of the challenges raised by generative AI for news organisations. We, like others, will learn and adapt.
In the meantime, The Irish Times will continue to make space for new writers, not least those from under-represented communities, and to offer you, our readers, the high-quality journalism you expect.
Ruadhán Mac Cormaic