After Gizmodo Fires Spanish Writers, Google Now Ranks Raw Machine Translation

Gizmodo Machine Translation

Up until August 29, 2023, and for over a decade, the Spanish version of popular technology and science site Gizmodo, which receives over 2 million visits per year, was in the hands of a few Spanish language writers. That is the date when they were all laid off and reportedly replaced with machine translation (MT). A Spanish writer lamented on X that AI had literally taken his job.

Now, at the bottom of Gizmodo’s Spanish articles, readers will find a disclaimer indicating that the article has been machine-translated from the original, and that due to the “nuances of machine translation,” there may be slight differences. In the same disclaimer, users are given the option to click to see the original English version.

Upon examining a few articles, Slator was able to establish that the Spanish content is not only being machine translated, at least since August 31, but it is also being published as raw MT. Spanish speakers will be able to immediately see not slight differences, but rather significant inaccuracies, grammar, capitalization, punctuation, and other errors in articles like this one about Disney’s Ahsoka series.

(Hello friends. On Tuesday, GizmodoES was shut down to be turned into an automated translations publication (an AI literally took my job). I will soon start looking for a new job. If you know of a vacancy that matches my 13 years of experience, I will be very grateful for your help.)

A few readers have posted on social media about the poor quality of the translated content as well as mixed Spanish/English articles. Some also complained that clicking on the option to see the original article in their countries does not help, as the site forces the browser locale based on the internet provider, so those readers who also understand English are stuck with bad Spanish.

Reporting on news of the layoffs, The Verge site stated that “G/O Media began posting AI-written articles to Gizmodo in July [2023], but these first iterations contained factual errors. Staffers claimed they were not told the stories would be posted until shortly before publication.” 

G/O Media has owned Gizmodo and other sites hosted on its Kinja platform since 2019, and these layoffs appear to be one in a series of unwelcome decisions made by senior leadership that have also prompted many resignations. In an article on The Daily Beast news site, a G/O Media spokesperson is quoted saying “We see AI as a supplement to our editorial workflow, not a replacement. We do not plan on laying off editorial staff due to AI activities.” Eight days later, the Spanish writers were let go.

“Examples of spammy auto-generated content include: Text translated by an automated tool without human review or curation before publishing” — Source: Spam policies for Google web search

As of this article’s publication, it is unclear whether the company plans on using AI-generated content or MT for other sites/languages. However, the raw MT Spanish content is being indexed in Google general searches. Slator tested this with three different searches in Spanish based on September 2023 Gizmodo English articles (“Los Inmortales de Aveum,” “Godzilla Menos Uno,” and “Meta dará a europeos opción de no ver publicidad”), and all rendered an result on the first page of results.

In all three cases, the Spanish in the articles is evidently machine-translated, including brands and trademarks. “Los Inmortales de Aveum” ranked 5th on the search, and “Godzilla Menos Uno,” and “Meta dará a europeos opción de no ver publicidad” both ranked 1st.

If, by all accounts on news sites, what the G/O Media CEO was looking for with recent measures was a boost to site traffic, MT is apparently no impediment, and the strategy is working. There is no direct correlation between the accuracy of the terms of the search and what Google picks up, which has implications for content creators and publishers, as it means that poor raw MT quality is no impediment to SEO.

However, automatically generating content specifically to improve search rankings violates Google Search policies for spam, which stipulate that spam includes “Text translated by an automated tool without human review or curation before publishing.”