Michael Schumacher: German publication blasted for publishing fake interview

Thomas Maher
Ferrari driver Michael Schumacher looks on.

Ferrari's Michael Schumacher looks on.

A German magazine has published a ‘first interview’ with Michael Schumacher, before revealing said interview was actually generated by an AI chatbot.

Die Aktuelle, a weekly published magazine in Germany, has hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons after publishing an ‘interview’ with Michael Schumacher in its latest copy.

Published on the 15th of April, Die Aktuelle ran with a picture of the seven-time World Champion on its front page, with ‘World Sensation’ and ‘Michael Schumacher, the first interview’ written in large font to capture the attention of passers-by.

Such an interview would indeed be a huge scoop, with the German legend not seen in public for over 10 years. Schumacher, having retired from Formula 1 at the end of 2012, was involved in a life-changing skiing accident while on holiday in December 2013. His family has been fiercely protective of his condition ever since, with no concrete facts as to his level of recovery.

However, in the ‘Schumacher’ documentary, hints to the severity of his condition emerged as his son Mick revealed that he and his father can’t discuss his F1 career.

“I think dad and me, we would understand each other in a different way now,” Schumacher said of Michael.

“Simply because we speak a similar language – the language of motorsport. We would have had much more to talk about and that is where my head is most of the time, thinking that would be so cool.

“That would be it. I would give up everything just for that.”

Die Aktuelle interview is revealed as a fake

Landing such an interview would have been a huge coup for Die Aktuelle, but the fact the interview was revealed by Die Aktuelle to be a ‘deceptively real’ interview generated by use of an AI chatbot has meant the publication has met with a huge amount of criticism.

The interview poses questions to Schumacher, with the AI chatbot responding as if the seven-time World Champion is indeed taking part in the interview. Questions include detailing his condition over the past decade, and returning to the scene of the skiing accident that interrupted his life. For ethical reasons, PlanetF1.com will not reproduce any of the answers given in the ‘interview’.

In an editorial piece entitled ‘Too stupid to be true‘, German media expert Boris Rosenkranz tore into the publication’s decision to publish such an inflammatory and insensitive piece.

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“One should not expect much from the magazine ‘Die Aktuelle’ and the editorial office behind it, preferably nothing at all, and certainly not something like decency or truthfulness,” he wrote.

“It’s in a magazine that has nothing to do with journalism. Now you could say: ‘OK, they finally resolve that it is an AI interview, so wild. But, above all, ‘Die Aktuelle’ insinuates that the answers that the AI ​​gives there, or at least their content, possibly come from Schumacher after all. Or from his environment.

“[It’s] too stupid to be true. Of course, there are a lot of question marks in the ‘Die Aktuelle’ text – also, as usual, for legal protection. You can hide behind it, but you can’t hide the calculation: to give the readership the feeling that Michael Schumacher might be talking about his physical condition.”

Fake interview a disgusting reminder of morally low publications can be

Given the tremendous heartbreak that the Schumacher family continues to endure to this very day, a fake interview that essentially seeks to replicate the possible answers of the real Michael Schumacher and present them as if he’d said them is another low for journalistic integrity.

Published without a byline, Die Aktuelle clearly are aware of the likely backlash such a piece would generate and has chosen to hide behind the veil of being a corporate entity, without a focal point for critics to target their anger at.

Sadly, Die Aktuelle’s actions are not the first morally bereft incident the Schumacher family have had to cope with during their ordeal. In 2013, manager Sabine Kehm told German media that a journalist had tried to gain access to Schumacher’s hospital room in Grenoble by posing as a member of the clergy.

“Apparently a journalist dressed as a priest had tried to gain access to Michael’s room,” Kehm told Die Welt. “I wouldn’t have ever imagined something like this could happen. The intruder was caught and escorted from the premises.

Thankfully, Die Aktuelle did actually make it clear that the interview was AI-generated – the sole positive that can be taken from the completely disgusting decision to publish such a piece in the first place. Publishing the interview without such clarifications would have been a very sad muddying of the waters, and circumstances that don’t bear thinking about for the Schumacher family.

With AI technology in its infancy, the content it can create can be used to generate fun hypothetical scenarios. But, with such capabilities comes ethical and moral responsibility not to outright swindle readers – something which, sadly, some publications may choose to ignore in the name of clicks. As ever, readers, vet your sources of information carefully….