A local news website which used fake journalist profiles and published questionable AI-created content is linked to an antiques dealer and life coach with the same name as its editor.
HTFP can reveal a series of connections between the Bournemouth Observer, whose representative Paul Giles last week admitted creating the fake profiles and using robots to “polish” the site’s content, and other Dorset businesses.
Those three websites – and, in the case of marketing service Digital Hype, its Facebook channel – are also linked by the same publicly-available mobile phone number.
Paul Giles is listed on a LinkedIn profile as the owner of the Antiques Store, which is based in neighbouring Christchurch.
Companies House database searches have also found two profiles for ‘Paul Gregory Giles’ and ‘Paul Giles’, both born in the same month of the same year, that are linked to a number of dissolved and active businesses in Bournemouth and Christchurch.
One of those businesses, Addictions Treatment Ltd, an active company of which ‘Paul Giles’ is listed as a person with significant control, has the same postal address in Bournemouth as that listed on the website of thespiritualretreat.co.uk – another of the sites hosted on the same server as the Bournemouth Observer.
In addition, two further websites linked to the Observer’s IP address – spiritualtherapist.co.uk and uklifecoach.co.uk – highlight the work of a ‘Paul Gregory’, described on uklifecoach.co.uk as “a skilled, experienced, and qualified counsellor and life coach.”
A photo of Paul Gregory on uklifecoach.co.uk bears strong similarities to an image contained in a separate ‘Paul Giles’ profile on LinkedIn in which he describes himself as a “a world wide recognised professional personal and business coach, qualified counsellor and active voice in the fight for human rights.”
We put the two images through an online face comparison tool, which found a 91pc probability that they are of the same person.
HTFP has approached Mr Giles for comment, both via the Antiques Store and via email, but he has declined to answer further questions about the connections between the various business.
Our latest findings come after we revealed last week that the Observer had used photos from a stock picture archive to illustrate biographies of the 11 ‘journalists’ it claimed to have on staff, while some of its content raised questions about the use of AI after police failed to find any record of two incidents reported by the site.
Mr Giles later accepted the now-deleted profiles were “pseudoynms”, rather than those of real journalists, while also admitting some of its stories are “polished with the help of AI”.
Our original story sparked an industry debate about the use of AI in local news, prompted the South-West branch of the National Union of Journalists to issue a warning on how fake sites could steal revenue from genuine regional titles, and led Public Interest News Foundation director Jonathan Heawood to warn that AI will drive a further wedge between local news outlets and readers.
Last week the Observer published a blog post entitled ‘The Bournemouth Observer Fights Back Against Media Bias’ which has since been taken down but which is still available to read on Google’s cache here.
In it, Mr Giles hit back at criticisms of the site from journalists, claiming he had been the victim of “keyboard bullying from established industry insiders” following the publication of our findings.
He wrote: “It was not without surprise that I adopted a pseudonym for each of my writing segments. While it seemed an innocent creative choice, it was received with strong criticism, resulting in me choosing to let go of the aliases.
“The stories I write, though polished with the help of AI, are fundamentally human. To dismiss these narratives as ‘fake’ because they’ve been aided by technology is not just inaccurate but unjust.”