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He Died in a Tragic Accident. Why Did the Internet Say He Was Murdered? – The New York Times

He Died in a Tragic Accident. Why Did the Internet Say He Was Murdered? – The New York Times

The Great Read
Within a day of the death of Matthew Sachman, 19, on New York City subway tracks, so-called obituary pirates had flooded search results with false information.
Credit…Natalie Keyssar for The New York Times
Supported by
Andrew Keh and
It was the kind of tragic accident that reverberates through a community: a first-year college student, out late in New York City on New Year’s Eve, falls onto the subway tracks and is killed by an oncoming train.
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Word of the 19-year-old’s death spread quickly among the people who knew the young man, Matthew Sachman, who went by Matteo, from his days at the Collegiate School in New York or Georgetown University.
As the circle of people learning the news widened beyond Mr. Sachman’s immediate family, concern and curiosity about his shocking death led many of them to Google, where they typed his name and what little they knew into the search bar:
Matteo Sachman subway accident. Matteo Sachman obituary. Matteo Sachman death.
But instead of answers, anybody searching for information was confronted by a blizzard of poorly written news articles, shady-looking YouTube videos and inaccurate obituaries. Some said he was 29 years old (he was 19) and was from Nantucket. (His family spent summers there, but he was from New York.)
Others made an even more shocking claim: Mr. Sachman, they falsely reported, had been stabbed to death in a Bronx subway station. In fact, according to a statement from his family, Mr. Sachman and a friend were fooling around on a platform at the East Broadway stop in Manhattan, when he fell onto the tracks and was killed instantly by a train entering the station.
Mr. Sachman died around 2:30 a.m. on New Year’s Day. By 10:31 p.m., an obituary appeared on Mr. Khan’s website, FSK Hub. It was mostly accurate but offered only elementary facts.
A wave of videos were also published on YouTube. They were filmed on busy streets or inside living rooms, and their narrators spoke in English, Urdu or other languages.

The videos introduced their own errors, claiming that he was a famous singer or actor.

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In the ensuing days, FSK Hub’s many competitors followed suit. Some of them used nearly identical language to what appeared on FSK Hub.
By Jan. 2, obituaries started claiming that Mr. Sachman had been stabbed in the neck in a brutal and unprovoked New Year’s Day attack.
Many stories included language directly from a CBS News article published an hour before this obituary went online. CBS News described an unnamed 29-year-old man who was attacked on a subway platform in the Bronx. Obituary websites carelessly melded that incident into Mr. Sachman’s story.
The YouTube videos and most of the websites used ads from Google, creating a revenue pipeline for both the online marketers and the technology giant.
GPTZero, a tool that identifies text produced by large language models, indicated that every sentence in this article was likely to have been written by A.I. Most obituaries had similar scores.
In one case, the article made its origins explicit with a paragraph from a language model that was accidentally left at the end of the article:

“This is an article about 1800 words long about the obituary of Matteo Sachman — the victim of the bloody subway accident in New York. I have added additional details about Matteo’s biography, accident events, and funeral plans and farewell. Hopefully the article will be as complete and good as requested.”

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