back to article Breaking news, literally: Newspaper's quakebot rumbled for fake story

A Los Angeles Times article-writing bot sent shockwaves through the internet Wednesday – by falsely reporting a hefty 6.8M earthquake had hit Santa Barbara county, California. The quake did occur, but it was back in 1925 – 92 years ago. It’s not the first time bots have been accused of spreading fake news. The US elections in …

  1. Paul Cooper

    Y2K

    Looks like the Y2K bug has bitten, 17 years late!

    1. anonCoward24

      Re: Y2K

      I concur, exactly my thought as I came in to comment

  2. Herby

    To err is human...

    ...to really foul things up you need a computer.

    Point proven!

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
      Devil

      Re: To err is human...

      Computers may only be as fallible as journalists, but they don't drink as much and don't fiddle their expenses claims.

      1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        Re: To err is human...

        Computers may only be as fallible as journalists, but they don't drink as much and don't fiddle their expenses claims.

        And can't be bought by (cough) pre-release high-end kit that they somehow forget to return.

        Eh Alastair?

  3. Keven E

    "The LA Times' Quakebot is an automatic article-generating program that uses algorithms to turn email alerts from the US Geological Survey (USGS) into news stories. "

    Really? An algorithm? That sounds quite *bullshitty or at least some human started the error. How about just hook it up to an active seismograph?

    1. jake Silver badge

      @Keven E

      The email from the USGS was addressed in the article. However, it is is probably normally generated by a computer that keeps an eye on a seismoscope. Seismographs have slightly different uses, as do seismometers.

    2. DJ Smiley

      How about validating input such as the date of the event?!

      Why a script takes a event that has claimed to happen 8 years in the future, and publishes it, is beyond me.

  4. jake Silver badge

    On the other hand ...

    ... "When, not If" is the mantra around here ...

    (Typing a couple hundred yards from the Rogers Creek Fault, probable home of the San Francisco Bay Area's next "big one". We're as ready as we can be at Chez Jake. Not paranoid, pragmatic.)

  5. Mephistro
    Trollface

    Wouldn't it be really scary if...

    ... a similar earthquake happens in 2025, exactly eight years in the future?

    The History Channel would have material for dozens of documentaries! Yikes!

  6. Keven E

    Real time monitoring...

    ... was the point of my choice of seismograph...kinda eliminates the 92 year error. I wonder how large does it have to be for USGS to issue an email?

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Real time monitoring...

      Presumably in a narrow range between "large enough to care about" and "destroyed the infrastructure to send the email"

      York city council setup an expensive flood detection and warning system when the alternative was a web server in any riverside pub = "If you can't reach this page the river is flooded"

      1. Allan George Dyer Silver badge

        Re: Real time monitoring...

        "If you can't reach this page the river is flooded/the pub has a blown fuse/someone's spilled their pint/..."

        FTFY

    2. Amos1

      Re: Real time monitoring...

      Anybody can sign up for them. I don't think I've ever seen one below a 6. The Europeans also send them, GDACS, but their's are sometimes delayed from USGS. When I got that email I immediately started looking at Santa Barbara Channel webcams so I could see a tsunami in real-time, until the cameras went away, of course.

      I noticed the date but figured that someone was messing around with the alien earthquake generator and had accidentally hit the Run Now button on that scheduled task.

  7. Kernel

    If it had been my local paper

    I wouldn't have been surprised - 83 years sounds about right for breaking news to make it into their pages.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's not a very earth-shaking story...

  9. Cuddles Silver badge

    No it doesn't

    "events like these remind us that robot journalists aren’t infallible and make mistakes – just like humans"

    As the article makes clear, the "robot" journalist did exactly what it was supposed to do, the mistake was made by a human. In fact, there appear to have been two mistakes probably by two separate humans - the first being the human who failed to make a service with historical data going back over a century Y2K compliant, and the second being the human who edited the data but then failed to check that it was actually correct afterwards. At no point does a computer appear to have done anything other than exactly what it was told.

  10. Amos1

    M6.8 - SANTA BARBARA CHANNEL, CALIF.

    Preliminary Earthquake Report

    Magnitude 6.8

    Date-Time • 29 Jun 2025 14:42:16 UTC

    • 29 Jun 2025 07:42:16 near epicenter

    • 29 Jun 2025 09:42:16 standard time in your timezone

    Location 34.300N 119.800W

    Depth 10 km

    Distances • 14 km (9 miles) SSE (156 degrees) of Isla Vista, CA

    • 16 km (10 miles) S (175 degrees) of Goleta, CA

    • 16 km (10 miles) SW (214 degrees) of downtown Santa Barbara, CA

    • 145 km (90 miles) W (281 degrees) of Los Angeles Civic Center, CA

    Location Uncertainty Horizontal: 0.0 km; Vertical 0.0 km

    Parameters Nph = 0; Dmin = 0.0 km; Rmss = 0.00 seconds; Gp = 0°

    Version = 0

    Event ID ci 37161284

    Followed an hour later by:

    Subject: 2025-06-29 14:42:16 DELETED: (M6.8) SANTA BARBARA CHANNEL, CALIF. 34.3 -119.8 (84ba6)

    DELETED: Event ci 37161284

    == EVENT DELETED NOTIFICATION ==

    ***This event has been deleted after review by a seismologist.***

    Geographic coordinates: 34.300N, 119.800W

    Magnitude: 6.8

    Universal Time (UTC): 29 Jun 2025 14:42:16

    Time near the Epicenter: 29 Jun 2025 07:42:16

    Location with respect to nearby cities:

    14 km (9 miles) SSE (156 degrees) of Isla Vista, CA

    16 km (10 miles) S (175 degrees) of Goleta, CA

    16 km (10 miles) SW (214 degrees) of downtown Santa Barbara, CA

    145 km (90 miles) W (281 degrees) of Los Angeles Civic Center, CA

    DISCLAIMER: https://sslearthquake.usgs.gov/ens/help.html?page=help#disclaimer

  11. Alistair
    Windows

    ERMAHGERRRD!

    WE had to WAIT 2 MINUTES to get that BREAKING NEWS posted because you were in teh BATHROOM you lazy scum sucking layabout welfare recipient. We COULD HAVE LOST MEEEEELIONS in AD rrrrrrrRRREEVVEEEENUUEEE!!!!

    I'm sorry, what the sam f**k happened to the position once referred to as "copy editor"?

    Oh ... right. Now occupied by Shlep Chequers and Grammor validictorians.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: ERMAHGERRRD!

      The "copy editor" died when the physical box called a "Web Press" died, along with typesetting and proofreading. This occurred right under our noses with the near ubiquitousness of the inherently ephemeral World Wide Web. If that's not ironic (and somewhat sad) I don't know what is ...

  12. earl grey
    Paris Hilton

    I thought i felt something.

    She said i was all wet.

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