The BBC, Jews, ChatGPT and Hanlon’s Razor

I’ve long lamented the fall in standards at the NYT. The BBC isn’t much better.

Let’s take the story: Apple sparks Palestinian flag emoji controversy.

First off, the headline implies agency. Apple” did no such thing, and as the article explains, or rather links to iMore to explain, Apple shipped a bug intro production. We have no reason to suspect this was a political statement. At least nobody dug deep enough for that.

But what’s more troubling is this line:

TV presenter Rachel Riley, who is Jewish, noted on social media that national flags were not suggested for other capitals.

Ms Riley’s religion has nothing to do with this story, and presenting it here serves no purpose other than to devalue Ms Riley. The story is about Apple releasing a bug that could be interpreted as taking a political stance on a contentious issue. These are objective statements, and the religion or other identifying details of those reporting them are irrelevant. Whether Rachel Riley is a Catholic, Muslim, or Atheist has no bearing on the story.

It’s all rather curious because doing something like this would have been considered to be poor taste, if not outright unethical not that long ago. I don’t want to say that the BBC is rife with anti-semitism. There’s a much simpler explanation, and if we follow Hanlon’s Razor, it’s the non-malicious motive. On the other hand, I don’t think the BBC would ever deadname” somebody. The lack of similar standards towards Jews does at least seem a bit odd, but who knows.

My actual conclusion, though, is that the BBC doesn’t have journalists writing stories anymore.

This whole thing started from a Tweet by Rachel Riley, which she signs as a Jewish woman concerned about the global rise in antisemitism”. That’s her right to disclose her religion herself. That doesn’t mean it’s good journalism to include that in any subsequent stories. The job of a journalist is to sift through sources and present a refined narrative for readers, not just regurgitate raw quotes.

On a lark, I decided to ask ChatGPT to write a BBC style story based off of the original tweet. Here’s my conversation with Mr GPT. It’s uncanny how similar ChatGPT’s article is to the actual BBC article, including:

Riley, who identifies as Jewish, reported that after updating her device to iOS version 17.4.1, typing the capital of Israel, Jerusalem, prompted the suggestion of the Palestinian flag emoji, 🇵🇸, instead of the Israeli flag emoji.

Going back to Hanlon’s Razor and what I’m seeing around me at tech companies, I’d be willing to bet that the BBC is using LLMs to write their second tier stories, with perhaps a brief human check before publishing.

The same Hanlon’s Razor applies to Apple. I’d be willing to bet that predictable emojis are done by frequency with a few safeguards and minimal human oversight.

Tech journalism has descended to quoted Tweets and press releases. No questions, no deeper conclusions. The question that should have been asked about how Apple released this: an activist product owner or a simple bug was never even brought up.